By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. – By definition a legend is “a romanticized myth of modern times” or when describing a person “one that inspires legends or achieves legendary fame”.
There have been many “legendary” quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference, and the list elicits memories from decade’s worth of great games. Names like Steve Spurrier, Tim Tebow and Cam Newton all carry that cache, a place in the Pantheon of SEC “legends”. Their performances are known by singular phrases (the kick, the jump throw, the comeback, etc.), their historic victories part of SEC lore.
How does one become a legend? To answer that question, the above definition is a good place to start.
A “romanticized myth” can refer a larger than life football game (check), and “one that achieves legendary fame” the red-shirt freshman phenom under center (check). “One that inspires legends” was Texas A&M’s opponent, the nation’s top ranked team and the defending champion (Alabama). Throw in the historic nature of the matchup (first ever SEC game between Texas A&M and Alabama), and the stage was set for legends to be made.
After 60 emotionally draining minutes in Tuscaloosa, perhaps it is time to add a name to that list.
Seeing as how the new James Bond movie opened this past weekend, perhaps Daniel Craig (or Sean Connery) would say it best.
His name…Legend, Johnny Legend.
While we are at it; perhaps Johnny Heisman too.
Whether you refer to him by his given name, Johnny Manziel, or by his moniker, Johnny “Football”, the redshirt freshman has accomplished what few others have. In just one year, make that 10 games, the cult hero from Kerrville, Texas has become the rallying cry for a nation of Aggie fans. His unorthodox style and flair for the dramatic have made him a household name, so much so that calling him “Manziel” is now a thing of the past.
Much like Earvin “Magic” Johnson or Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, the nickname is now the only name, as the Aggie signal caller is a phenomenon all his own. Not to compare a 19-year old to an NBA Hall of Famer, but there is no denying that the world refers to both in the same manner. The nickname will not go away, much like his performance on Saturday night.
This isn’t just hype; it is production, with stats that rival any quarterback to ever play in the SEC.
Let’s start with Saturday. Against the nation’s top defense, Manziel combined for 345 yards of total offense, while also adding two touchdowns. He completed 77 percent of his passes, and kept numerous drives alive by escaping the pocket.
Manziel’s awareness was tremendous, and he consistently evaded sacks in the bleakest of situations. He made key throws, and in the face of a raucous road crowd at Bryant-Denney Stadium executed in the fourth quarter. When Texas A&M needed a big conversion, it was Manziel that made them happen.
As for the season, that’s where the “Heisman” part comes in. I first wrote on October 1st that Manziel’s season deserved Heisman consideration, and that continues to ring true a month later. The Kerrville native leads the SEC in rushing (101 yards per game), as a quarterback, and is also in the top three in passing yards per game (278 a game). He has broken an SEC record twice this year, combining for 1133 total yards in wins over Arkansas and Louisiana Tech.
In comparison to the past two SEC Heisman winning QBs (Tebow and Newton), Manziel is right in the mix. At his current pace, he is set to gain in the neighborhood of 500 more total yards than Tebow did in 2007, while throwing for 1000 more than Newton in 2010. Other than touchdowns, Manziel is near or ahead of both Tebow’s and Newton’s total yardage numbers at this point, which they both compiled during later seasons in their career.
Despite being just a redshirt freshman, he has already found a spot in the SEC record book. After rushing for 92 yards against Alabama, Manziel has 1,014 for the season. Even with two games remaining (plus a bowl game); his current total is second all-time in SEC history for a quarterback. He is also on pace to have a top five completion mark for a season, connecting at a 68 percent clip at this point.
His collection of eye-popping stats has to ensure that Manziel’s season is among the top four best in the country. By that logic, Johnny “Football” deserves a trip to New York, and should be a candidate for the prestigious award given to the nation’s top player. After Saturday’s performance, it is hard to see how the entire country wouldn’t agree with that assessment.
As for his legendary status, that can never be taken away. No matter what transpires in Manziel’s career going forward, his masterful dominance on the road over a top-ranked and defending National Championship team will always be remembered. Texas A&M fans, searching for their first true sense of belonging to their new SEC, have more than a program altering win to hold on to.
They have a legend.
They have Johnny Football.