CANTON — Johnny Football Fever has spread to the clergy.
During the invocation before the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club presentation Monday, the priest gave special mention to rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, the guest speaker, turned red as he laughed heartily on the dais.
“Father, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a prayer like that before,” Haslam said. “I’m not sure what Brian Hoyer thought of that.”
Haslam is as excited as anyone about Manziel, the No. 22 pick in the draft Thursday out of Texas A&M. But Haslam wants Manziel to set his celebrity status aside and stay humble as he embarks on his pro career. Rookie minicamp will be held this weekend.
“We were very frank with him on Friday,” Haslam said during the question-and-answer session in a packed house of about 500 people. “‘You’re the backup quarterback. This is a hard-working, blue-collar town. This isn’t Hollywood. We want you to come in here, work hard and work as hard as anybody on the team.’ And (coach) Mike Pettine said it very well, ‘Johnny, right now you’re our backup quarterback and you need to act like such.’
“He’s not the starter. Brian Hoyer is our starting quarterback. They’ll compete. If Johnny wins the job, fine. If not, Brian will be the quarterback.”
Haslam has been known to be a Manziel fan for months, but he insisted he didn’t force general manager Ray Farmer to draft him. Haslam denounced an ESPNCleveland.com report that the Browns originally wrote Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s name on the card to turn in before changing it to Manziel with 10 seconds on the clock.
“That’s crazy. That’s nuts,” Haslam said.
Farmer insisted Saturday after the draft that Haslam didn’t demand or request he select Manziel.
“I thought it was very important we take a quarterback this year, because Brian Hoyer — great guy, great leader — hasn’t played that much and is coming off an injury,” Haslam said. “So I thought it was important to take a quarterback.
“We picked the top-rated quarterback on our board when he was available. That was solely Ray’s call, not my call. Ray’s the one that decided to make the trade, Ray’s the one that picked Johnny Manziel, Ray’s the one that made those calls and that’s his job.”
Speaking about two hours earlier at the Cleveland Browns Foundation annual golf tournament 50 miles away at Barrington Golf Club in Aurora, Pettine also shot down the report.
“It’s absolutely false,” he said. “I heard that story, too. It’s beyond laughable.”
Pettine said there were scenarios that involved taking Manziel at No. 4, and there were no other quarterbacks in the discussion that high. But he wants him to earn his playing time.
Hoyer started three games last year. The Browns won all three, but he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the third and was done for the year.
“Brian Hoyer is what you want in a football player and what you want at quarterback,” Haslam said. “He’s tough. He loves football.
“We’ve had very honest conversations with Brian. It’s his job. It’s his job to lose. I think you’ll see him compete and compete hard.”
Hoyer is a North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius graduate, but that likely won’t stop the cries for Manziel to start from Day 1. They would surely become deafening if Hoyer struggled.
“We’ve talked openly about this, if Brian has a bad game in Game 1 or 2 is everybody going to be yelling for Johnny?” Haslam said. “I think that’s why you want to have a football coach that thinks long term and is tough and is going to do the right thing for the team, and I think that’s the kind of guy Coach Pettine is when you have those kind of conversations.”
The excitement over the Manziel pick has been obvious among Browns fans, but he’s not just a local attraction. ESPN reported Manziel’s No. 2 Browns jersey is the best-selling on NFLShop.com since April 1, topping Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning and Colin Kaepernick.
The league wouldn’t say how many Manziel jerseys were sold, but did say there were almost as many sold across draft weekend on its website as Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Tim Tebow jerseys combined during their draft weekends.
While Haslam the businessman certainly appreciates the bump in revenue and interest, he said selecting Manziel happened in spite of the Johnny Football hype.
“We’re excited because this is a guy that accounted for 93 touchdowns the last two years running and passing,” Haslam said. “He did it — I’ve got to be careful saying this in Big Ten territory — in a fairly tough league and when you ring up 500 yards on Alabama two years in a row, you can clearly play football.
“There is a Johnny Football aura out there and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it is what it is. But I think you’ll find a guy that’s really a hard-working, serious guy that doesn’t want to be a three-year-in-the-league flash and out who makes a lot of money on endorsements. He’s a football player. He likes football. He’s highly competitive, and I think you’ll see a guy that’s going to come in here and go to work and go to work hard.”
Haslam said Manziel was a “little upset” he wasn’t taken until No. 22 and that Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles went 19 picks earlier to Jacksonville.
“I think he comes in with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder and wants to show the people he’s about winning games and not about all the other ‘stuff,’ if you will,” Haslam said.
Manziel will draw a big crowd when media members are allowed to watch rookie practice Saturday. Pettine’s prepared.
“I think you expect it,” he said. “In seeing how he’s handled it so far, he’s certainly said the right things. You can tell he’s been prepared, does a real nice job with the media.
“It’s time to go to work now. I think if you ask him he’s ready to come in, immerse himself in the playbook, get out there, concentrate more on being a great quarterback for the Cleveland Browns and being a great teammate than all the other stuff outside of it.”