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Keidel: Johnny Manziel... Why Do We Still Care?

By Jason Keidel

So Johnny Manziel mused profoundly about life in Denver, while he was drinking (moderately, of course) in Los Angeles.

It's typical Manziel, to be so grandiose despite his circumstances, dreaming of the high orbit of Super Bowls, while burning in the lava of his decisions. We can, we have to, expect that from Manziel, whose handle of Johnny Football has now assumed all the dark contours of his nightlife and none of the sun-splashed Saturdays that made him famous.

But why do we still care? Why can't we get enough of this kid, who, frankly, has accomplished nothing since he became old enough to drink, other than prove he can consume enough booze to float a battleship. If Manziel isn't careful, he will soon become the Paris Hilton of the gridiron, living off his name, not his game, celebrated for the parties he attends rather than the passes he completes.

But is this by design? Is it a coincidence that all of Manziel's movements are framed and archived moments after they happen? Whether or not we admit it, he's good for business.

It's not a coincidence that TMZ has morphed into a monster, a cartoonish bouquet of cameras and microphones, an army of photographers planted across the continent? They're camped outside some midnight enclave in L.A., ready for some soul to stagger out of a strip or night club (Manziel). They're ready for a wayward punch to be thrown in Toronto (Jahlil Okafor).

Manziel's most famous photos are now of him in a casino or bar or other dim corner of excess. We only see him in repose, bleary-eyed, sprawled over some inflated fowl, guzzling Cristal before a liquor-soaked lens, flanked by sycophants who just want a quick sip of his fame.

His own father famously implored the world to find his son some help. In an unusually tender moment, Manziel's dad agonized over the idea that his son wouldn't be alive for his next birthday.

Our response? Lights. Camera. Action.

Is it a coincidence that TMZ has tweaked its sports arm into a national power, so strong and wide it's now got its own time slot on Fox Sports 1? How many offshoots (Katie Nolan) have remolded the talk show template into its own form of industrial "gotcha" game.

The Shield has room for icons and iconoclasts. The NFL surely buys into the advertising edict that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Other than the Ray Rice video, and the occasional, brutal malfeasance of Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy, the NFL trades on the bright lights of brutality, on and off the gridiron.

We are just as guilty. We watch every second of it, gobbling up every quip, report or sound bite. We snatch those newspapers and flip right to Page Six, where we find our water cooler fodder.

Sorry life sucks, Johnny Manziel. But we see you through the PR prism of Johnny Football, the All-American, the football rebel without a cause or a pause. Our bad boy deluxe.

If the NFL doesn't bask in this heat, then why is Manziel cuddling so closely with the Broncos? Why is the Super Bowl MVP (Von Miller) reportedly his roommate? Why is the Super Bowl head coach "keeping in touch"? Surely it's more than the provincial pride of a shared alma mater. There are conflicting reports about Manziel and Miller as bunkmates, but they're still quite chummy.

Does John Elway really want John Manziel? There's nothing in the Hall-of-Famer's history to suggest he keeps company with cannons as loose as Manziel. Especially when the QB doesn't have a cannon on the field.

If Elway cut a choir boy like Tim Tebow, the anti-Manziel, who wouldn't be caught dead in those dens of iniquity, then what possible role could a misfit like Manziel fill in Denver? (I know, Tebow was traded, not cut. Same difference.)

Maybe they, like us, just want to be around something famous or dangerous for a while. Even by the obscene standards of wealth and fame a football player already enjoys, Johnny Manziel -- or Johnny Football -- brings a new, distorted quality to the whole thing, like Ralph Steadman's art on the pages of a Hunter Thompson book. No matter how grotesque the celebrity life gets, there's always someone more famous. Or infamous.

Sadly, Johnny Manziel thinks he's using us to feed his epic appetite, but it's really the other way around.

Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden. Follow him on Twitter @JasonKeidel.

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