For someone who lives roughly 1,000 miles from the nearest Canadian border crossing, I’m a little protective of the country.
Well, that’s not entirely true – I’m a little protective when it comes to the country’s professional football league. (I’ll trust the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to handle the other stuff).
Anyway, when the Montreal Alouettes announced on Wednesday that Johnny Manziel was off the team and out of the Canadian Football League – permanently – I didn’t bat an eye.
I was even a bit relieved.
While you can argue that Manziel might’ve created more interest in the CFL from fans based in the United States, I never thought his presence was required to make the league better. As far as I’m concerned, the league was already just fine in the QB department, thanks.
Manziel was originally the gridiron property of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, which set off alarm bells for me. I’m a Ti-Cats fan, and I liked Jeremiah Masoli as the presumptive starting quarterback before the 2018 season. I feared “Johnny Football” would be allowed to step in and take over for no other reason than he once won a Heisman Trophy.
At best, he’d be a distraction.
“We’re excited to add Johnny Manziel to our roster, particularly getting it done now so that Johnny can join his new teammates and the coaching staff for a full training camp,” then-Ti-Cats coach June Jones said at the time. “We feel like we’ve got an excellent group of quarterbacks, and the addition of Johnny only improves our football team in our pursuit of the ultimate goal, which is to win a Grey Cup Championship.”
That was coach-talk, of course, but it didn’t stop me from worrying that Jones would move Manziel to the head of the class – especially after he said he thought Manziel could be one of the best QBs to ever play in the CFL.
Fortunately, it didn’t happen.
Manziel never took a regular season snap for the Tim Hortons Field tenants and was traded to Montreal in July.
He did get plenty of playing time for the Alouettes – completing 106 of 165 passes for 1,290 yards, five TDs and seven interceptions – but now he’s gone because he, and I’m quoting from the CFL press release here, “… contravened the agreement which made him eligible to play in the league.”
I don’t know what he did and, really, couldn’t care less.
What I do know is the CFL has plenty of quarterbacks who I enjoy watching.
Masoli is my guy because he plays for my team, but it’s not blind loyalty. The dude threw for 5,209 yards and 28 touchdowns last year, and tied a league record for most consecutive 300-plus yardage games with 10.
Like Manziel, he’s dealt with off-the-field issues (second-degree burglary while in college at Oregon and misdemeanor drug and traffic offenses before landing at Ole Miss).
Unlike Manziel, though, he has apparently learned to stay out of trouble and now makes headlines only for what he does on the field.
Mike Reilly is also a boss; he threw for 5,562 yards and 30 touchdowns last year with the Edmonton Eskimos – his second consecutive 30 TD season. This year he’ll be behind center at British Columbia, giving the Lions a turbo boost during his second stint with the franchise.
Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell is creeping up on legend status as he engineers the Stampeders’ offense.
In seven seasons with the Horsemen he has thrown for 24,473 yards and 150 touchdowns; last year he accounted for 35 major aerial scores.
Edmonton’s Trevor Harris, Winnipeg’s Matt Nichols, Saskatchewan’s Zach Collaros – the CFL is full of talented and capable signal callers, which is kinda important when you only have three downs to make 10 yards.
And I guess ultimately I like the fact that most of these quarterbacks – even though they harbor NFL dreams – come to Canada and grow as CFL players instead of looking for the nearest exit.
I never got the impression Manziel was fully committed to the league, and that’s why I never caught “Johnny Football Fever.”
Look, I’ve got nothing personal against Manziel. Whatever problems he has I hope he can learn not to “contravene” again. If he gets a chance in the Alliance of American Football this year or the XFL in 2020, I wish him the best.
But when it comes to the Canadian Football League, I don’t need a “big name” to have big fun.
Just show me a field 110 yards long and 65 yards wide, and I’ll trust the players on the field to make it worth my while.
Especially the quarterbacks.