Are the Gods Out to Destroy Manziel?

Johnny "Football" Manziel makes the money sign

Johnny “Football” Manziel makes the money sign

Sports Saturday

Just over two years ago I saw Greek tragedy written all over Johnny Manziel, the gifted quarterback from Texas A&M who had a spectacularly bad debut this past Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. His quarterback rating was 2.0, the second worst ever recorded for a quarterback starting his career. Cincinnati won 30-0 and I’m not sure whether the Brown’s offense ever got into Bengal territory. One NFL analyst compared Manziel to a junior high player competing with professionals.

In the game where I predicted disaster—the Aggies were playing Alabama in Manziel’s final college year—the quarterback actually exceeded my expectations. Texas A&M put up a good fight, losing 49-42, prompting one sports poet to write,

The Tide offence was overwhelming,
But they couldn’t stop Johnny from the usual Manzielming. 

So maybe Manziel will recover from this Sunday’s thumping, which after all was only one game. For the record, Peyton Manning set records for most interceptions his rookie season. Nevertheless, given Manziel’s cockiness, my comments are worth revisiting. Here’s the column:

Reprinted from BLTB, September 14, 2013

I am unhappily predicting a Greek-style tragedy for Johnny “Football” Manziel, the extraordinary Texas A&M quarterback who beat the national champions Alabama last year and went on to win the Heisman trophy as a freshman. Today, after a tempestuous summer where he was investigated by the NCAA, he faces the Crimson Tide once again.

Manziel’s crime was signing autographs for pay. He dodged the bullet, however, because no one stepped forward to testify. As a result, the NCAA has had to drop charges. Lest autograph signing sound like a small thing, Jonathan Chait notes that, if student athletes are allowed sign autographs for money, then alumni and others will start using autographs as a backdoor means of funneling thousands of dollars to them.

In addition to breaking NCAA rules, Manziel also doesn’t seem to be handling his newfound fame well. Texas, along with other statesm worships those who excel in football, but there is a danger that Manziel’s elevation will feed into his already oversized ego and prove to be his undoing–just as Oedipus, once made king of Thebes, is prepared to run roughshod over anyone who stands in his way? Will we find ourselves in a few years time shaking our heads like the chorus at the end of Oedipus Rex?

You residents of Thebes, our native land,
look on this man, this Oedipus, the one
who understood that celebrated riddle.
He was the most powerful of men.
All citizens who witnessed this man’s wealth
were envious. Now what a surging tide
of terrible disaster sweeps around him.
 

Or do we have here a Faustus situation. Just as Faustus is not content with being the scientific equivalent of a Heisman trophy winner but wants even more, will Manziel demand even more adulation?

Till swoln with cunning, of a self-conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above his reach,
And, melting, heavens conspir’d his overthrow…

Marlowe’s play concludes with the chorus echoing the Oedipus chorus:

Cut is the branch that might have grown full straight…

I hope, both for Manziel and for football fans everywhere, that he finds a way to balance his extraordinary self-confidence with some humility. Otherwise he may gain wisdom only at the price paid by many of the tragic heroes from the Athenian and Elizabethan stages.

This entry was posted in Marlowe (Christopher), Sophocles and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

  • AVAILABLE NOW!

  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete