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Immaturity no crime for Johnny Football


I was reading something the other day about one of the old baseball seasons by Roger Angell. This is always an ideal way to spend time before the trade deadline passes when your team is a seller instead of a buyer.

Here was Angell in the outfield: “He had become a famous star, with all the prizes and ugly burdens we force on the victims of celebrity, and from now on he would be set apart from us and his teammates and the easy time of his youth.”

Angell was writing about Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. He could have been writing about Johnny Manziel in 2013.

Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M last year. Like Yaz winning the Triple Crown in 1967 and leading the Red Sox to the Series, that has made him famous.

He ate Skittles, he drank beer, he won the Heisman. That’s what Wright Thompson’s in-depth profile says about Johnathan Paul Manziel on ESPN.com. That’s what put him in the fishbowl.

In the fishbowl, he’s Johnny Football. You can’t hide in the fishbowl. Ask Justin Bieber and his pet monkey. There are pressures when one lives in the fishbowl, and there are people taking pictures with portable telephones.

John David Crow won the Heisman at Texas A&M in 1957. He lived in the fishbowl, too, but people didn’t take pictures of him with portable telephones. He wore his hair in a crew cut, when crew cuts were in.

Last weekend, Johnny Football got into trouble for going to fraternity parties. He got into trouble for doing what any 20-year-old college kid might do. That’s just how it is in the fishbowl.

He did not stuff his mouth full of mashed potatoes and pretend to be a zit, like Bluto Blutarsky in “Animal House.” He mostly got into trouble for wearing a Tim Tebow jersey.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he also had a couple of beers.

When I was Johnny Football’s age, I, too, went to college. I, too, might have had a couple of beers. I didn’t win the Heisman (shock). I didn’t live in the fishbowl. So people were willing to let me slide, despite the following facts:

■ I stepped out on my steady girlfriend once or twice. Or three times. Actually, I just thought about it the third time. But I grew up Catholic: If you thought about it, you did it. At least as far as confession goes.

■ In a related matter, when we were playing New Mexico Highlands, I met a girl, and I wound up giving her my alternate baseball jersey. The yellow mesh one, the one that did not quite stretch to her knees, not even close. The next week, when we played Grand Canyon, I lied and said I had left my yellow jersey at home.

■ I found a mimeograph stencil of the art appreciation final exam in a wastebasket, which I shared with members of the football team. But there were two art appreciation finals; the one I found apparently was for the evening glass. So a lot of football players flunked. And the next season, New Mexico Highlands beat us, 56-7.

■ During spring break, I went to Phoenix with a couple of guys from Malaysia and introduced them to the fine sport of greyhound racing. One of the Malaysians hit a nice quinella. Afterward he spent his winnings on the ladies of the evening on nearby Van Buren Street. At least that’s what I was told.

■ I had this buddy named Lyman, who was like 29 but still working on his master’s, and he had a souped-up Dodge Challenger, and sometimes he and I would drag main and drink Olympia beer out of a paper bag, because Oly was all we could afford.

■ When I was home for Christmas, I made out with one of my brother’s girlfriends. But it wasn’t one of his steady girlfriends.

■ With two outs in the ninth inning against New Mexico State, the catcher and I let a foul pop fly drop between us that would have ended the game. My brother was pitching. The Aggie batter who hit the foul pop fly hit my brother’s next pitch onto the corrugated roof of a maintenance shed roughly 450 feet from home plate, and so we lost the game, because there had been other Aggies on base. No, this was not a crime. Except that my school hadn’t beaten New Mexico State since Charley Johnson was quarterback of their football team, so it seemed like a crime.

■ I took a date to a drive-in movie in an AMC Pacer. Talk about a fishbowl.

I still think I turned out OK. Maturity is a wonderful thing.

Perhaps maturity is something that Johnny Football will discover when he becomes Johnny Used Car Salesman because Johnny Football stands only 6-feet 1 inch, whereas Tom Brady is 6-4.

I have a good job, a great wife, and every time I come home, I have two dogs that wag their tails. I had none of these things when I was 20.

Then again, I never got so much as a Texas League single off Bob Gibson. And I did not make the Alabama defense look like simpletons on national TV.

I am, however, glad that Twitter did not exist in 1978, and that telephones did not take pictures then, and that you cannot be charged with an error for letting a pop fly drop in foul territory. I am also glad crew cuts weren’t in style, or my dad would have insisted I get one.

Any of these would have complicated the easy time of my youth.

I am glad, too, that drive-in movies and AMC Pacers have gone the way of the complete game and the wishbone offense. Or I might get the urge to re-enact the easy time of my youth. And then I’d have issues like Yaz and Johnny Football.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.