Heisman winner Johnny Manziel sparks memories, publicity and intense speculation

Welcome to the Lockr Room. The youngest student-athlete to ever play quarterback for a major college football team, former Texas A&M star David ‘Moon’ Walker, provides his weekly insights on the Aggies and the SEC.

Follow David on Twitter: @davidmoonwalker and @12thManQb.

Lockr Room Legends Q&A: David “Moon” Walker, 12th Man QB


My 90 year-old Aggies landlord, Henry Hilton, stopped by the other day after returning from a vacation in Italy. Sometimes he likes to come by and chew the fat, though he’s not getting around as well as he did five years ago when we first met here in College Station. Back then, my youngest girl had just transferred to A&M from Belmont University in Nashville where she’d attended several semesters to study music. As Texas’ 5A Soprano One First Chair (or State Champ, as I call her), she felt Belmont was her best choice to continue her music studies after considering Berklee in Boston and NYU. We’d vacationed in Nashville earlier in hers’ and her sister’s childhoods and the college seemed familiar and down-home to her Mom and me.

She had never visited A&M, with the exception of spending a week at a basketball camp one summer during her junior high years. The thing was, in all those years of raising her and her sister and working most weekends myself, I’d never had the opportunity to bring our family to an A&M football game.

The girls, Lindsey and Carly

My girls were basketball players and involved in church and other social activities, and not surprisingly, weren’t football fans. My coaching days were long over and other than attending an occasional high school game, I was pretty much on my own in the Man Cave. They even called it “The Cave” back then. How funny; I’m thinking a lady came up with the term.

I decided one weekend to fly her in from Nashville and we drove into College Station for a game. When I was arranging for tickets, I was told over the phone the seats were located three rows from the top in the end zone, so I asked for seats at the very top, which I received. I mean, if you’re that close already, why not go all the way? Well, little did I know, she fell in love with Texas A&M — its yell leaders and student section, the hand signals they’d give to alert the crowd of the next yell, the band and the spirit. She even started studying the program to decipher what all was coming up next. I sort of beamed.

[Related >> How much fun can Aggies fans expect out of Johnny Football and Co. in 2013?]

The game was great too. We fell behind Oklahoma State but came back and beat the Cowboys for what may turn out to be the last time in our school’s history. My daughter transferred into Aggieland and received a double degree in Psychology and Sociology, and for now has her singing career on hold. Named after Carly Simon, I figure she’ll be a star once she’s ready to roll. After my Longhorn lady and I split up after our 25-year contract expired, I decided I’d move back to College Station and catch up on some games, some Aggie camaraderie and be around if my new Aggie needed anything.

While driving through a neighborhood that sits pretty close to the campus, I saw a “For Rent” sign and a truck sitting in the gravel driveway. Stopping and getting out, I peered into a window where a gentleman was busy with some repairs. I yelled, “You’re working too hard in there!” He looked up and smiled, and I said, “Can I come in?”

No. 1, All-American kicker Tony Franklin

We introduced ourselves and he asked me if I was David Walker, the quarterback, to which I responded, “Yes, sir.” He told me his wife had bought their two sons both mine and kicker Tony Franklin’s jerseys back when they were just kids. This was pretty cool. I asked him what the ‘going rate’ was on the little 2-bedroom house and he told me. I’d driven by this same house a thousand times when I was in college, so it already felt a little like home to me.  I’d even been in a bad wreck in front of it when a guy U-turned on me from the right lane just after sunset one evening.

Little did I know I’d be in another accident a couple of years later that would break my neck. It would be in this house I would type my memoirs two-fingered (it’s how I roll), unknowingly suffering from a cervical fracture and two complete dislocations.

I said, “Deal,” and Mr. Hilton gave me his agent’s business card and said she’d get me ready to roll. While apartments were requiring proof of employment, this gentleman never asked for any; it was an Aggie deal. There once was a time when a handshake in Aggieland was all one needed and jobs were easy to find.

My landlord is a former Marine who was a civil engineer for the Military for many years, most of them spent overseas or in South America. I asked him what he thought of Johnny Manziel and the season we’d just had. He first told me about a game in 1940 when Texas A&M was about to repeat as national champions, having won it all in 1939. The last game of the season in ’40 was in Austin against our former bitter rival, the University of Texas. Tickets, he said, were $1.10 and many of the boys couldn’t get inside the stadium because they didn’t have the money. Security had a pretty good eye on all the gates and fences, but a delivery truck pulled up and when the gate opened, a few of them were able to dash in and scatter.

Hey, you had to make do in those days.

Apparently it was a heartbreaking loss, and he hitch-hiked back to a little town called Hearne with a couple of well-to-do, very happy Texas grads after the game. Hearne was still about 30 miles out, so he hitch-hiked the rest of the way with some fellow Ags who were coming back from the game.

Seventy-two years later, he still has trouble talking about that night.

He quickly brightened though, changed his tone and looked me in the eyes and said, “Dave, this season was the best I can remember since 1939.” How could anyone have enjoyed it more than a 90 year-old Aggie, and our quarterback? There’s surely others who came close but after observing this gentleman’s demeanor, I’m satisfied none surpassed him.

Texas A&M Aggies Yell Leaders doing what they do best.

He was wearing a company jacket that I noticed had the name of Ennis, Texas on it. He told me the story about how he’d received it from one of the city contractors once when he was on a job there. I mentioned that our quarterback had just gotten himself a speeding ticket in Ennis and the judge, a Baylor grad (don’t mess with Texas football!) was claiming they’d caught the Joker, or somebody just as notorious, for excessive use of acceleration in their quaint little speed-trap town.  The judge added that college defenses couldn’t catch Johnny but their police department sure had … wait, make that, “allegedly.”

[Take a loot at exactly what the judge had to say here]

Mr. Hilton (yes, I call him Mister Hilton) just laughed. All the stories the media guys and gals have passed judgment on and the little “meeting” our athletic director from A&M had with Johnny’s parents are all laughable matters in real-time. Even Johnny said a week later that neither his parents nor the A.D. had informed him of the details of any such discussion. He only knew what the A.D. had quoted to the papers. This tells me that Johnny’s parents know which apple carts to topple, and which not to. Apparently this little sit-down didn’t amount to the big ol’ blip on the radar screen the A.D. had hoped for.

After all, since my playing days began during the modern era of football at A&M (the Vietnam War ended my Freshman year, coeds were on campus, freshmen were playing real football and the black athletes were coming on board), I’ve got to agree with my landlord. When has any A&M quarterback (Heisman winner or not) been able to enjoy a season AND a season finale like we had this year?

Johnny Manziel vs. Missouri

At Texas A&M, great seasons have uncannily been spoiled by losing the ensuing bowl game or being ineligible in the first place. This is why 1976 (10-2 record, ranked 7th nationally with a season-ending 7-game winning streak) and 2012 (11-2, ranked fifth nationally with a season-ending 6-game winning streak) are about as close to reasons for genuine revelry this school has had heading into the off-season.

Jackie Sherrill’s Cotton Bowl-winning season of 1985 certainly ranks in the top 3 for us in the modern era as a ‘body of work with a finish’.

Kevin Murray was exceptional during this 10-2 season and also in beating Auburn and Heisman winner, Bo Jackson.

1987 was also strong but the team was declared ineligible the following spring for the upcoming ’88 season, which certainly erased some luster. Otherwise we have to go back to 1956 to run down another No. 5 team.

Losing season finales is no way to start an off-season. Rarely does a team lose its last game and come back to win the national championship the following season. (Reason for Revelry No. 28). It’s time to celebrate a little and act like we’ve been here before.

Johnny Manziel greeting the homecoming crowd after taking down No. 1 Alabama

Here’s another reason to celebrate. A recent study says Johnny’s Heisman has brought in an estimated 37 million dollars in free exposure. Johnny’s share is zero, or at best, deferred. Self-promotion is the number one key to successful ventures later in life — that time period when the NCAA doesn’t have its stranglehold on you. (Right or Wrong, only TMZ knows for sure.)

[The gossip company caught Johnny Football poppin’ bottles of Dom on New Year’s Eve]

The more Johnny hits the spotlight the greater his opportunities will be for endorsements once his college career is done. Responsibilities aside, Johnny has to get out there, preferably with Miss Savage on one arm. Hey, Johnny is no Tebow, and nobody expects or truly wants him to be. I support Johnny in every public endeavor because, as much as everyone seems to believe he’s a kid who doesn’t know any better yet, I would advise you against challenging him in a game of Chess, pool , Monopoly or especially poker. You just might get your butt beat while he’s laughing all the way to the bank.

I was the Conference Freshman of the Year and played the entire season at 17 years of age, and was born in December like Johnny. I’ve still never seen New York City, although I have been to Dallas (to watch Texas play the U and take a girlfriend to try out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders) and I’ve even made it to a few NBA basketball games in my lifetime. What’s up with Jack Nicholson, anyway? No Lakers seats? Of course, they’re not having a particularly stellar season.

Regardless, when Old School meets New School, there’s no contest.

Enjoy Johnny Heisman while you can. Obviously he is a dreamer with a huge imagination. His visualization skills are right on par with his peripheral ones. He’ll try to get it right but if it’s not there, he will improvise. That’s what makes him unpredictable; that’s what makes him Johnny. And he’s pretty good at the laser shot, balcony shot, long ball and longer ball, too. (See Dude Perfect)

[Check it out >> Johnny Football pulls off some unreal trick shots with Dude Perfect]

I’ve been saying this since I knighted him the No. 1 quarterback in A&M’s history following just the second game of his career in a throwback ’70s Aggie uniform. I had to go back and study the replay as a coach would several times before I wrote that week’s article.

Here’s the deal: with the success this Spread offense is having in the NFL, as soon as Johnny gets proficient with the “Zone Read” (referred to in the NFL as the “Zone Option,” probably for elitist reasons) suitors will come calling. You’ve got RG3 in Washington (are you kidding me?? Shanahan’s running it???), that 5-foot-11 Russell Wilson kid in Seattle (USC’s former coach runs that outfit, who, by the way, lost a national championship to Vince Young’s spread offense at Texas) and Jim Harbaugh, just a couple of years removed from Stanford where he ran a standard Pro set, is now in the Super Bowl with Zone Read Extraordinaire, Colin Kaepernick, after a mid-season promotion and a distinct change in offensive direction.

Johnny Manziel with his game face on at the Cotton Bowl

The next news out of the NFL was that the Oregon Ducks’ coach, his team a shoe-in for preseason Top 3 honors, decided to change funky uniforms yet again and became an Eagle — as in, Philadelphia. Guess what offense he runs.

Johnny Manziel has tweeted previously while watching Drew Brees hit throw after throw that Drew is proof-positive that 72 inches of height can easily get the job done in the NFL. Unfortunately for me, not many folks believed this in the late ’70s, especially about guys in the 71-inch category running Wishbones. They do now.

And while Kaepernick is not short of stature, he has a much smaller man’s wheels. Just ask the Falcons.

The clincher is, just like Drew Brees, Johnny only had a few colleges contact him about coming to play football for them.  Drew came back from a tough knee injury his junior year in high school to lead Austin’s Westlake High to the 5A championship, and still, not a peep was heard from the gods of Texas football. He even had an uncle who was a tremendous option quarterback at Texas named Marty Akins. Drew wasn’t even recruited as a maybe-defensive back there. He eventually went to Purdue and shattered every passing record and won a ton of games. By gosh, he’s also won the Super Bowl.

Johnny, while under the same recruiting duress as non-college prospect Drew was — sans the knee surgery — verbally committed to go play for powerhouse Oregon, with the same coach who now heads up the Eagles organization. This was the only guy in America, besides Sherman at A&M and Coach Sumlin who was still at Houston, who believed in Johnny enough after his junior year to offer him a scholarship.

Do you think Johnny might be on Philly’s radar, especially with Michael Vick on yet another downswing? I do.

I’d say Johnny is the ultimate juker and certainly won’t be anybody’s Joker, at least not for long. He’s already heard an A&M rep telling ESPN that the Texas A&M brand is bigger than Johnny Manziel. His parents have been called into the principal’s office with what seems to be a reprimand/warning, and the NCAA has its eyes on his every move via Twitter, Facebook, TMZ, Vegas and the normal scumbags out there with smart phones. Meanwhile, Johnny is back attending to his studies, doing some light-hearted singing occasionally with that Clint Black smile of his, giving interviews at the halftimes of basketball games and signing anything put in front of him. Just stay grounded, Johnny. 37 million, huh?

He may be a very wealthy young man in just a little over a year from now. It almost makes you wish Mike Sherman would’ve had reason to see if Johnny could have saved his job as a true freshman, just to have seen him play another year. Our best bet may be to continue to shun the Zone Read (Option) in our offensive attack.

At any rate, Johnny Manziel will be to Philly — or anyone else moving up in the draft order — what Joe Willie Namath was to New York and the Jets: their Savior. Hey, how have Tebow and Sanchez been doing lately?

I just hope the Senior Bowl players were right when they voted the Aggies next season’s National Champions. Mr. Hilton would enjoy that.

This hand, guys, the Juker is wild.

We break down the Aggies’ 2013 schedule so you don’t have to.

  • Ca Mahelona

    Great read, always thoughtful and well-written!

  • http://twitter.com/evelyngriffin Evelyn Griffin

    I agree with Ca Mahelona. Wonderful article!