The quarterback ran right, spun loose, cut across the field, stepped through tackles, backpedaled to open space and fired a pass.
The backyard improvisational style was Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl 2021. It was Kyler Murray every Sunday. It was Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M not too long ago.
“It all points to me, if I would’ve kept evolving that side of my game,” Manziel said. “But I got to a point where I was so focused on proving I was a pocket passer and not running around as much. I remember times I was really hard on myself. I stopped the evolution of my game with the offseason work that [wasn’t enough] needed to get to the level where you can do that in the NFL.”
Manziel, 28, is about to suit up again Saturday as the face of the new Fan Controlled Football league, which allows a Twitch digital audience to call all the offensive plays and redraft teams on a weekly basis. Since the “Johnny Football” phenomena ended with his last snap for the Browns in 2015, the former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick has played in The Spring League, the Canadian Football League and the Alliance of American Football.
This is something very different — aimed to attract a younger e-gaming audience with hour-long games. For some players fresh out of college, it’s a chance to get scouted by the NFL. Not for Manziel, as he explained Thursday to The Post.
“I’m not treating this as a stepping stone to get back into football,” Manziel said. “I always have the feeling of chucking the ball around with my boys in the backyard. It’s a fast-paced game, a lot of points, some big hits, from what I’ve seen the past couple days of practice.”
Manziel took a weekend trip to Scottsdale, Ariz., about 18 months ago and never left. He rediscovered the competitive fire he lost to the grind of football in seven-hour days playing golf at some of the country’s most scenic courses during the pandemic.
But friend and comedian Bob Menery — who co-owns FCF’s “Zappers” franchise with Mets pitcher Trevor May — coaxed Manziel out of retirement for a six-week season.
“There are a lot of haters out there,” FCF co-founder Sohrob Farudi said, “but from my interaction, he is an incredibly thoughtful guy who has done a lot of self-reflection. We felt like the embodiment of fun on the field is Johnny. That’s what we are building.”
Manziel agreed because he is at peace with the way his NFL career unfolded, including an arrest and a suspension for violating substance-abuse policies.
“I would rather have the happiness I have now than the uncertainty of what could’ve been and still feeling immensely trapped in my own head and the fame and everything else going on back then,” Manziel said. “The best part about my day now is I feel really normal.”
FCF is part-development football, part-technological start-up company, part-entertainment production complete with a stage for rock-concert-like player introductions. Players are encouraged to show personality, which begs the question: Will Manziel dust off his trademark “money hands” celebration?
“We’ll see. The guys have been asking me about it,” he said. “We’re here to have fun. If things come out on the field, they come out. We’re not holding anything back.”
Same goes for his interactions with teammates. Manziel, who said in 2018 that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is an open book on the commitment required and the decisions to avoid if a NFL career is your goal.
“I think I learned a lot of lessons that I never would’ve learned if my career kept rising to what it could’ve been,” Manziel said. “It’s always cool for me to support guys who are still grinding it out and still dream. I try to be the voice of reason: Even though this might be different than what you expected, you still have a position here to get film and maybe it gets you the opportunity to further your football career.”
Manziel was coached by Kliff Kingsbury and Kyle Shanahan before they became preeminent offensive-minded NFL head coaches.
So, as Mahomes scrambled for 497 yards behind the line of scrimmage in the Super Bowl, it’s worth wondering if Manziel’s playing style was ahead of its time. And worth another audience.
“Guys here have been like, ‘You were my guy when I was in high school or middle school,’ ” Manziel said. “It’s cool I had an effect on guys who continue to play the game. That will always be something I really, really appreciate. I went out and played for the guys like me.”
— to nypost.com