by George Schroeder, USA TODAY Sports
HOOVER, Ala. - When the circus ended, a jet whisked the rock star off to Los Angeles for the ESPYs.
"Just another day," Johnny Manziel said several times during his appearance Wednesday at SEC media days.
And although the hot, controversial topic was how he spent last weekend - for almost three hours, the Texas A&M quarterback fielded dozens of questions on the hows and whys of his premature exit from the prestigious Manning Passing Academy - the entire event seemed like a continuation of a seemingly nonstop victory tour that began when the Texas A&M quarterback won the Heisman Trophy last December.
Manziel, 20, disputed accounts that he was asked to leave the camp early. He deflected questions about whether he'd been drinking alcohol, saying several times there were "social events" associated with the camp. He said he simply overslept when he missed scheduled events last Saturday morning. He said he couldn't be reached by camp officials because his cellphone died. Was he hung over?
"That's absolutely untrue," he said.
Manziel was unapologetic about an offseason filled with extracurricular activities, and yet said several times he wanted to continue to live "like a normal, 20-year-old college kid." Never mind that as he spent the morning trailed by a considerable entourage, tracked by an even larger media contingent, he compared himself with LeBron James - and also, with Justin Bieber.
The immediate comparison was with another former SEC quarterback who drew similar attention at media days the summer after he won the Heisman. But not even Tim Tebow created this kind of spectacle. Longtime SEC radio voice Paul Finebaum called Johnny Manziel's appearance the "biggest moment in SEC media day history," and if it was hyperbole, it still covered a lot of ground. Although the annual event is largely canned and Manziel's latest controversy seems mostly manufactured, at least in the moment it was hard to argue. This was, too:
"There's no more talk after this," Manziel said. "Let's play football."
When kickoff arrives, we'll finally begin to find out what impact, if any, Johnny Football's offseason will have on the field, if those were red flags or just overwrought adults. "My offseason will have no effect on this season," Manziel insisted.
After setting records and upsetting Alabama in 2012 en route to an 11-2 season and becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman, expectations have skyrocketed. Expectations for Texas A&M are similar - assuming the Aggies' best player is ready to get back to work.
The entire scene was incredibly different than last summer. When Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin participated in his first SEC media days, Manziel was a relative unknown who hadn't even won the starting job. The theme then was how A&M would possibly compete in its new league. And now? "It's a great time to be at Texas A&M," Sumlin said. "There's a lot of expectations on our program. For us, that's a good thing."
That includes, Sumlin said, Manziel's newfound celebrity status. And as for the main topic Wednesday, Sumlin said Manziel has "made some mistakes," but defended him.
"Is he perfect? No," Sumlin said. "I think he's done some things he's not very proud of, has made some poor decisions. He's made some good decisions. Unfortunately, the poor decisions are the ones that are really publicized."
Seemingly everything about Manziel's offseason got publicized. His online classes. His courtside seats at NBA games and visits with LeBron and other stars. His spring break in Cabo. His round of golf at Pebble Beach. And his tweet last month - apparently, after he got a parking ticket - that "(expletive) like tonight is a reason why I can't wait to leave college station...whenever it may be."
Manziel's premature departure from the Manning camp, where he was a counselor, became a controversy at least in part because of timing. It was the most recent incident suggesting Manziel's goal of "enjoying life to the fullest" might have been overachieved. Four days later, he faced 1,200 credentialed reporters and ESPN's giant amplifier. Manziel said he was aware of some public backlash, but if his offseason pursuits maybe seemed too much like his playing style - barely controlled chaos - he didn't appear to care.
"Crazy is a good way to describe how others see it," he said. "For me, it's been fun working out, living life and just enjoying it."
'I'M NOT TEBOW'
And Manziel, who said he's traded voicemails with Tebow, noted: "I'm not Tebow. I'm different in many ways."
But he admitted to mistakes, saying although some things were "blown out of proportion ... I've tried not to make the same mistake twice."
Manziel drew a parallel to the weeks last season between the Heisman ceremony and the Cotton Bowl, when people watched him vigorously enjoy his newfound celebrity - and then saw him dismantle Oklahoma. And he said he did not believe he had lost his teammates' trust in his ability to lead the team.
"Absolutely not," he said. "These guys know where my head is at and where my heart is at."
Across the room, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews said fame hadn't changed Manziel.
"You're not gonna see me doing any of the stuff he does," Matthews said. "I'm a little more of a laid-back guy. But I've got all my faith in Johnny. I know he's gonna be a great player. I know he's gonna be ready for the season. He's just so competitive, he loves playing so much, he puts so much pressure on himself, he wants to be the best.
"I know he wouldn't do anything to mess that up."
Manziel said he was eager to get back to football - and to shut down the extracurricular activity: "The season's coming up, so everything changes during the season. All that goes away."
Then, when all the interviews were finished, he left for Los Angeles and the red carpet. A couple of hours later, via Twitter, came some praise, one star to another.
"@Drake: You handled yourself well today. Proud of you brother!"
Manziel, who hadn't tweeted in a full month, retweeted it.