FAYETTEVILLE — Johnny Manziel first appeared Saturday night warming up in front of the University of Arkansas student section.
Many taunted, but many pulled out their phones and took pictures.
No word about autograph requests.
On Texas A&M’s first possession, he completed a 49-yard pass on the first play, then dodged, danced, juked, darted and fired to Michael Evans for 9 yards and a touchdown on third and four.
As he ran around the turf like a spooked ostrich, the Hogs defenders would have had trouble in flag football. When the Hog defense finally caught him behind the line in the middle of a jig with 2:21 left in the first half, the UA Chris Smith danced and the crowd roared as if it were a benchmark moment.
The Heisman Trophy winner had his jawing matches with the UA players and one coach along the sideline.
Johnny Football can be Johnny Jerk.
Between the lines, he’s one heck of a player. He’s the most exciting player in football and one of the best to ever play in The Hills.
ESPN’s “The Book of Manning” showed old film this week of Ole Miss’ Archie Manning. Manziel’s crazy maneuvers are similar, although I don’t remember Manning daringly carrying the ball like a brash intramural touch football quarterback.
Trying to contain Manziel is like trying to control an avatar in a video game after a demon has taken over the controls.
For awhile Saturday night, the only thing to slow down little Johnny was commercials and marketing.
You cannot simulate Manziel in practice unless you have a greased pig.
You know what?
Manziel led Texas A&M to a 45-33 victory over Arkansas by knowing how to slip out of the spotlight.
He then let his team play Bielema Ball, wearing down the Hog defense, pounding the gassed Hogs up the gut on scoring drives of 68 and 57 after the Hogs had drawn within 31-27. At crunch time, he as a facilitator letting his teammates doing the grunt work.
The Aggies salted the game away by running 16 straight running plays on two scoring drives.
He knew when his team needed ignition and when it required a shepherd.
But Manziel wasn’t the only exciting player on the field. UA quarterback Brandon Allen, other than two interceptions, was amazingly accurate and effective and made a big difference in the Hog offense after allegedly throwing nothing but a Nerf ball for two weeks. Tight end Hunter Henry made some spectacular grab, Johnathan Williams made a pinball move for a touchdown and Alex Collins was a step or two away from some touchdown runs.
At games end, Johnny Football was Johnny Class. As time ran out, he flipped the ball to the official and shook the hand or patted the helmet of every Razorback player he passed. As he was walked toward his teammates, there was a slap on his shoulder pads. It was Collins with a big smile. And the exchanged pleasantries.
So a crazy game on a rainy night ended on a sunny note — as it should have.
Alex Be Good congratulated Johnny Be Great.
Just a hug.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd).