Johnny Manziel Netflix documentary 'Johnny Football' – USA TODAY

A decade ago, the world watched as a barely-6-foot redshirt freshman quarterback at Texas A&M took college football by storm with his flair for the dramatic, backyard style of playing and a Lone Star-sized ego to match.
The phenomenon known as “Johnny Football” is highlighted in a new Netflix documentary premiering Aug. 8, and in the first 10 minutes you see different sides of Johnathan Paul Manziel – the unbelievable talent that lifted the Aggies to a never-before-seen spotlight, the party boy, the blunt truth-teller, and the regretful and flawed human being that knows no bounds, especially when mistakes are made in the public eye.
In the 111-minute production, the layers to Manziel’s life are peeled back, chronicling his meteoric rise in college football and becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, to his crash landing in the NFL after being selected in the first round of the 2014 draft by the Cleveland Browns.
The “good-ole country boy” from Kerrville, Texas, now a Scottsdale, Arizona resident, said now is the time to tell his story without filters and excuses.
“I still go out in daily life and have so many people that come up to me and ask me about football, you know, are you still playing or are you doing that? You’re doing that,” Manziel told USA TODAY Sports. “So, a decade later, I’ve reflected back on it quite a bit and felt like this was a good time. Able to put a bow on the ‘Johnny Football’ side of things, to stop a lot of those questions that I get and be able to tell an amazing story and be able to move on with my life. I got an amazing opportunity with Netflix and untold to be able to do this. And it felt right.”
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Those watching “Johnny Football” get a by-the-numbers re-telling of a familiar story to sports fans, full of colorful language and characters.
Although the story is a decade old, the climate in today’s college athletics world makes it more than relevant today and highlights what Manziel went through as he navigated his two seasons in College Station, Texas.
The debate about whether student-athletes are just that or employees where intuitions of higher learning reaped the rewards of the players is still debated today. Manziel makes no apologies for the way he feels about the powers that be.
“I have a deep hatred against the NCAA,” Manziel says in the film.
With any documentary, storytelling is the glue that keeps a film together, and viewers will get plenty of that here. (Another gem is what happened to Manziel during a private workout with the Browns and who caught passes from him that day).
The drinking, partying, domestic violence allegations, the infamous Las Vegas trip, when he showed up in a fake mustache, wig and glasses even though the Browns had a game that weekend in Cleveland, are all touched upon. Still, further examining each of those things would have served the film better.
Fast forward to the world of college football in 2023. It mainly revolves around conference realignment and name, image, and likeness, which was unheard of in 2013. It also makes for the most interesting part of the documentary, as Manziel explained his motivation surrounding his fame and how other people profited from his success.
Manziel says he believes when he was playing and stayed in school, more money could have been made if NIL had existed than being a first-round draft pick.
“So, yes, it definitely would have added a different financial standpoint to be able to say, hey, I can still continue to go to school and do all of these things while making money,” Manziel said.
Much of the film examines Manziel’s relationship with Nate Fitch, or “Uncle Nate” as he was called, who served as Manziel’s publicist, agent, friend and broker. Fitch and Manziel came under the ire of the NCAA for an autograph scandal, during which the NCAA admitted it had no evidence Manziel received money for signing autographs but suspended him for a half during the 2013 season-opener against Rice.
Fitch and Manziel had no trouble admitting, with visual evidence throughout the documentary, that the autographs signings were a source of income while Manziel was in school. Their relationship eventually fell apart, and they haven’t spoken to each other in years.
Shortly after the Browns released him in March 2016, Manziel decided he didn’t want to live anymore. He purchased a gun earlier in the year and says he went on a  “$5 million bender” after refusing advice and going into a rehabilitation center.
“I had planned to do everything I wanted to do at that point in my life, spend as much money as I possibly could and then my plan was to take my life,” Manziel says. “I wanted to get as bad as humanly possible to where it made sense, and it made it seem like an excuse and an out for me.”
But Manziel’s attempt at killing himself failed after the gun malfunction.
“Still to this day, don’t know what happened. But the gun just clicked on me,” Manziel said.
Even after winning the Heisman and with all the success at Texas A&M, Manziel’s NFL draft stock was questionable, with some pegging him as a late-round selection.
“We can leave no doubt, for someone to take your (expletive)-up (expletive) in the first round, here’s what the strategy needs to look like,” Erik Burkhardt, Manziel’s former sports agent, says, who outside of Manziel himself is the most fascinating part of the entire documentary.
Burkhardt’s role as an agent is to provide a buffer between the athlete, the team, and the media, while making it up as you go along behind the scenes. For example, Burkhardt tells the stories of how they attempted to get Manziel out of the scouting combine in Indianapolis by making up a story about his father’s health, and how Manziel used the urine of a backup quarterback at Texas A&M to pass all of his drug tests.
Today at age 30, Manziel plays a lot of golf and is reportedly opening up a sports bar in the Fall called “Johnny Manziel’s Money Bar.”
“When you get to that level, you get into this media narrative that goes and kind of sticks with some other things,” he said. “And also just what I was putting out in the world at that time. I think I was very polarizing, very energetic. It was very hard for me to kind of sit still. I was always in the mix, doing something.”
Manziel is also reflective on what could have been but is also making his bipolar disorder and mental health a priority.
“I think there’s a lot of things that I have to do just from a mental health standpoint. They get me out of bed in the morning to make sure I’m staying on myself,” Manziel said. “I don’t ever want to go back to being in a place of where I was maybe six, seven years ago after my time in Cleveland was up. Things to do just on a personal level, to keep myself pretty even keel and where I want to be. And my friends and my family right now are the biggest piece and biggest factor in my life.”


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