Johnny Manziel showed a gash on the knuckle of his right hand and explained it took place during Super Bowl 55.
“I was jumping up and down and ended up punching the ceiling in the hotel room on accident,” Manziel told USA TODAY Sports this week. “I got a little banged up from sports betting this weekend.”
The bet that led to the injury: He wagered on the coin toss at the Super Bowl coming up heads, then watched a health care worker who was serving as an honorary captain flip the coin into the air.
“I was a little nervous when she flipped it and it didn’t really rotate,” he said. “But once it said heads, that’s all that matters."
Manziel, 28, the party-boy, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, is betting that playing in a new spring league – Fan Controlled Football (FCF) – for a team called the Zappers is the right move for his uncertain future.
When not playing football off and on the past few years, Johnny Manziel says he has spent most of his time hanging out with friends. (Photo: Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports)
A huge departure from the NFL, this four-team spring league is 7-on-7 football, on a 50-yard field, with games limited to one hour. Fans will pick the lineups and call the plays as the games will be shown on Twitch, a video streaming service.
The league begins Saturday and Manziel – the league's marquee player – is expected to start at quarterback for the Zappers.
“A big reason I’m here is I’m a little bored,” Manziel said. “I’ve been playing golf five days a week, hanging with my boys and playing cards and running around Scottsdale having a blast with a great group of friends that I’ve acquired out there. But I don’t have much of a schedule unless I create one, and I haven’t really created one.
“This isn’t me trying to be a comeback, redemption-type of tour for me to go back and play football anymore moving forward. After I play here, I probably won’t pick up a football again for another year. Two. Or maybe even longer than that. This is just an opportunity that got presented to me to get around a bunch of good guys who I feel like we’ll make great business connections with and I’ll have a lot of fun while I’m doing it."
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During an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Manziel talked about a wide range of topics, including his gambling habits.
Manziel said the most he’s won was his first day in Cleveland after being selected by the Browns 22nd overall in the 2014 NFL draft. He said he went to the the Horseshoe Casino (now JACK Cleveland Casino) with Joe Haden, then a cornerback for the Browns.
“I won 200 grand playing craps, just learning how to play with Joe Haden," Manziel said. “So I’ve always been intrigued by the gambling. There’s a responsible way to do it and there’s a way that gets a little bit reckless. But it’s fun and I’m a guy’s guy when it comes down to it.”
Asked about his biggest loss, he said he once dropped $100,000 in Las Vegas.
“I’d probably say overall I’m down,” he said. “If I do ever win anything, I’ll probably go out and take a trip or spend it pretty promptly, so it’s not like it’s going into the savings account.”
When he recently arrived in Atlanta to enter the FCF’s coronavirus bubble, Manziel said he brought an Xbox to help pass the time and also has indulged in gambling.
“I’ve kinda just been here placing some little bets on basketball games and football and whatnot,” said Manziel, who won the 2012 Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M. “Now that (sports betting) is becoming more accepted around the U.S. and you’re able to do a little more, it’s been fun.”
The Super Bowl provided another wagering opportunity.
In addition to winning a prop bet on the coin toss, Manziel said, he won prop bets on the Chiefs getting the game’s first sack and the Chiefs’ first scoring drive ending in the field goal.
Unfortunately, Manziel said, he bet on the Chiefs to win, only to watch them lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-9.
“If I had bet on Tampa Bay, I probably be leaving the FCF (league) in a private plane, going to France or something,” he said.
Long term, as Manziel approaches 30, the sense is he doesn't know exactly where he's going.
Johnny Manziel celebrates during his brief stint with the Memphis Express in the now-defunct AAF. (Photo: Wade Payne, AP)
Zero desire to play in NFL
Manziel was cut by the Browns in 2016 after just two years and eight starts with the team. Then he played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes in 2018 and the Memphis Express of the Alliance of American Football League in 2019 and failed to catch on with the XFL that same year.
“Even if I got an opportunity to go back to the NFL, I don’t think I would take it,” he said. "I don’t think it’s my path. I don’t think it’s what’s meant to be. I think there are a million other avenues and things I can do in life.
"I’ve been good as a football player in the past. I want to be good at something else in life, and I’ve tried to be patient and not force things like I have in the past and let life just come to me. And I’m a believer in something will pop up in my life that I know I’m going to love the way that I loved football at one point in time.
"For a time I didn’t like waking up and going and playing football anymore. I didn’t like the grind and going to work doing the whole thing. I fell out of love with it. So I think there’s going to be something that comes into my life moving forward. I don’t know exactly what it looks like or what it is, but in due time it’ll pop up and I’ll have that lightbulb moment again.”
Manziel wanted to set the record straight on his NFL career, which came to an abrupt end when the Browns cut him about six weeks after his former girlfriend said in an affidavit that Manziel restrained, hit and threatened her. She also accused Manziel of grabbing her by the hair and hitting her ear, causing her to lose her hearing.
“I had other opportunities to come back and play that year,” Manziel said. “And I remember having GMs and legendary people in NFL circles and saying they wanted to sign me. And I had absolute zero desire to do it.
“A lot of people think after Cleveland, that was it, that was the end of my story. But I had a multitude of opportunities that year, and even the following year. And it just wasn’t meant to be. I kept trying to force a square peg in a round hole and it just didn’t make sense. So whatever it was, it just didn’t click for me, it didn’t mesh for me.”
A month after the Browns cut Manziel, a Texas grand jury indicted him on a misdemeanor assault charge against his girlfriend. He struck a plea deal, agreed to take anger management classes, and the case was dismissed.
Manziel told USA TODAY Sports he has embraced a new approach to life.
"For the most part in my life, I’ve left almost every single thing, every resentment, every little thing that I didn’t feel went the right way,” Manziel said. "I believe a lot more in fate now and that everything happens for a reason. And for me, just letting a lot of things go and just trying not to dwell on the past.
“I used to feel like I was a mad individual, to feel like I was angry at the world. And that would come up in my personal life and what I would do, and my day-to-day life, how I treated people, how things went for me, I was angry.”
The anger has subsided, according to Manziel.
“I’m trying to chase happiness now and that’s a big reason why I’m here,” he said.
Johnny Manziel flashes his money gesture after being selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd pick in the 2014 NFL draft. (Photo: Frank Franklin II, AP)
'Ugliness in success'
Some images will forever define Manziel.
Lounging on an inflatable swan while swigging from a champagne bottle in 2014 shortly after being drafted by the Browns.
Wearing a disguise that included a blond wig during a trip to Las Vegas' Planet Hollywood Casino the night before the Browns' regular-season finale to the 2016 season.
And, of course, the money signs he popularized at Texas A&M and brought with him to the NFL.
“There’s beauty in the struggle and there’s ugliness in the success,” Manziel said. “And a lot of things through my success that looked pretty weren’t behind the scenes. And a lot of things that I struggled that looked bad, really taught me a lesson and made me get to a point where I’m sitting here today, over the past year. And I found a lot of clarity and a lot of peace with what’s happened. Everything on the outsidedoesn’t necessarily mirror what’s going on on the inside for me.”
It wasn't so much that Manziel kept pulling stunts as much as that he kept getting away with it, he said.
“Whether it was high school or college. You know, I kept doing wrong but getting benefited for it,” he said. "And finally when I was doing wrong and I got punished for it, I felt like the world was against me. Really, that’s probably how it should have been all along.”
Manziel grew up in Tyler in a family that had made tens of millions of dollars in the oil industry. And shortly after he signed with Texas A&M, his meteoric rise in college football took off.
A dynamic quarterback who played with flair, Manziel won the starting job, led Texas A&M to a stunning victory over then-No. 1 Alabama and capped a remarkable, 11-2 season by winning the Heisman Trophy.
“Everybody around me and the way I grew up and the way that my college career went, success and good things happen one after another and it makes you feel that life is always rainbows and always real easy. But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter who you are. From the top to the bottom, you have days when you just don’t and you have days when you’re going to be really hard. Life’s hard. And not a lot of people tell you that growing up.”
More than eight years from the peak of his career, winning the Heisman Trophy, Manziel said he's learned from his experience.
"You know, I had a screw loose on the football field,” he said. "I loved to get hit in the mouth. It was something about getting tackled and running around getting popped that made me tick inside. So mental isn’t always exactly normal or base line to what everybody else’s is, but I’m learning what makes me me and what I need to stay away from that makes me go a little bit down the wrong path.”
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