Column: The Legend of Johnny Football

By James Sullivan

Not much in the modern realm of college football can be labeled as “outstanding” anymore. Outstanding implies quality beyond greatness. The term insinuates power and depth, molding itself from the very qualities that legends are made of.

For decades, this word — outstanding — has stood as the lone qualification of the sport’s most prestigious individual award, the Heisman Memorial Trophy. The cast of men who can, deservedly so, claim the recognition as their own are remembered and known as some of the most influential athletes to ever grace the sport.

For any current player, adding their name to the vaunted ranks of the Heisman Trophy winners stands as the ultimate goal — a way to cement oneself as a college football legend.

The award’s three finalists for the 2012 season were announced Monday evening, with Johnny Manziel leading the way, holding his own against the likes of Kansas State’s Collin Klein and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o.

After leading the Aggies to an unprecedented 10-2 season in the program’s inaugural year with the Southeastern Conference, Johnny Football has emerged as the vanguard candidate for the Heisman. Despite his youth, the young quarterback has proven his worth through a slew of broken records and a pile-up of “video game” statistics.

Following two tough, early season home losses to top-ranked squads Florida and LSU, Manziel was able to engineer the year’s most notable upset when he led the Aggies over unbeaten Alabama, 29-24. In four excruciatingly long quarters, under the hostile lights of Bryant-Denny Stadium, Johnny Football dominated the future conference champions in what may be, arguably, A&M’s most momentous victory to date.

Statistically, the redshirt freshman finished the regular season with 4,600 yards of total offense through just 12 games, surpassing the SEC record set by Heisman winner and former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton who generated 4,327 yards through 14 games in his 2010 national title campaign.

Manziel continued to add to his legacy as he secured 43 total touchdowns in the year with just eight interceptions.

On the setting-records front, Johnny Football stands as the first freshman and only the fifth player in FBS history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for another 1,000 in the same season. He also holds the SEC record for total offense in single-game with 576 yards, breaking the mark initially against Arkansas before resetting it in the shootout victory over Louisiana Tech.

When it comes down to the numbers, however, Manziel’s head coach, Kevin Sumlin, was able to say it best.

“You can put those numbers up against anybody that’s not only played this year, [but] who’s ever played the game,” Sumlin said. “For a single season, they speak for themselves.”

For the first time in years, however, a true Heisman front-runner has not revealed himself outright. Both Te’o, a linebacker from Notre Dame, and Klein, Kansas State’s quarterback sensation, have consistently found ways to remain in the conversation.

With both standing as seniors and considering a freshman has never won the Heisman, Manziel’s youth continues to be a negative factor with multiple “traditional” voters.

The redshirt freshman’s age, however, hasn’t been the only fallout on his resume.

With Klein steering the Wildcats to a Big 12 Championship and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl, and Te’o heading up the undefeated Fighting Irish en route to Miami for the national title game, both Manziel’s opponents have shown leadership and certain “intangibles” notable in many Heisman winners.

Despite both Klein and Te’o holding a strong gridiron presence, their statistics have failed to measure up to their hype, especially when compared to Manziel.

When matched up statistically head-to-head with Klein, Johnny Football dominated in almost every category, compiling 1,220 more total yards and six more scores with only one additional interception.

Te’o, on the other hand, only has his top-ranked defense to back him up. In almost every defensive statistic, he ranks substandard.

All factors considered, Manziel has shown himself to be outstanding, particularly in the eyes of the Heisman voters. The young quarterback has even been able to secure some backing from the likes of a former opponent, star LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery.

“Johnny Football is nothing to play with,” Montgomery said following Alabama’s loss to A&M. “My hat’s off to Johnny Football. Heisman — just give it to him.”

Johnny Football will enter the Heisman ceremony in New York City on Saturday, as only a simple athlete from Kerrville, Texas, hoping to make history.

He should emerge a new man — one we all should know as Johnny Heisman.

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