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Bernstein: Manziel Is Great Theater, Regardless

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Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. (Jason Miler/Getty Images)

Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. (Jason Miler/Getty Images)

Dan-Bernstein Dan Bernstein
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since...
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By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com senior columnist

(CBS) I would never have drafted Johnny Manziel – not in the first round for sure, and probably not anywhere, but I’m really glad somebody did.

Because this guy is going to be entertaining, one way or another.

Those of us who don’t care one iota what actually happens to the Cleveland Browns have the luxury of sitting back and watching this all go off like the silly reality show that it has become so quickly, one with a cast of characters that’s almost too good to be true. Seriously, who wrote this?

The montage of party photos has been supplied via Twitter for the artsy opening credit sequence, set to Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good.” Here’s Manziel, who at 21 years old already seems unsure of where his real identity ends and “Johnny Football” begins, carrying himself as if none of this is, in fact, real. Team owner Jimmy Haslam is a hoot too, never far from a camera or a favored reporter’s ear, supplying a running commentary just two days into the opening of training camp.

Meanwhile, poor head coach Mike Pettine is an unlikely newbie who can’t seem to figure out what he’s supposed to say about this goofy kid from one day to the next. There is even Brian Hoyer starring as the ideal “other” quarterback, a perfectly plain cipher to act as dramatic foil.

“The reason I’m popular, the reason people follow me and there’s been such a buzz around me, when I went out on Saturdays at Texas A&M, I played with an extreme amount of passion and I played with my heart on my sleeve,” Manziel said.

“But more than anything I had fun. I had fun playing this game. I had fun going out on this field and playing football. That’s what I live for. That’s what I do. The same thing off the field. Whether I’m going out and playing golf, whether it’s going out and having the nightlife, whatever it is, I’m having fun. That’s what my life is. And luckily for me, I’m living out my dream of playing in the NFL, having a ton of fun.”

Lucky you, Johnny, indeed. And lucky us for being able to watch without having to worry whether or not the Browns are any good.

This can all play out in divergent ways, but let’s do some storyboarding, here. One ending is yet another pro sports cautionary tale, with the grim truth of a brutal game beating the fun out of everything. Our protagonist looks lost in preseason contests, pouts about his second-string status and drowns his sorrows haplessly in a sad, clichéd downward spiral of booze and blow and Tara Reid.

Another has the plucky, free-spirited force of nature just too much to contain. Hey – these stodgy grown-ups can learn a thing or two about how football’s just a game, y’know? He may not know what’s in that big playbook you gave him, but he doesn’t need one and never has. Highlight after highlight piles up, and we learn that NFL football doesn’t have to be so darn complicated, after all. Then he launches his own line of flavored tequilas.

Even better might be a mashup of both. Early setbacks knock him down a peg, and he’s relegated to backup duty as the Browns win some and lose some, all the while trying to make himself into something he’s not, until fate intervenes in a critical December game. Silence as the seriousness of the injury becomes clear. Off comes his ballcap and on goes his helmet, and he jogs out into the huddle.

So I’m with Johnny Football on at least one thing, no matter how this unfolds. Let’s have a ton of fun.

Follow Dan on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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