Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel reacts after being selected by the Cleveland Browns as the 22nd pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Thursday in New York. ASSOCIATED PRESS
BEREA, Ohio — Bells are ringing in Cleveland. Johnny Manziel’s here.
The Browns said they’ve already sold more than 1,000 season tickets since the team drafted Texas A&M’s electrifying quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night. The sales staff stayed until the wee hours today answering phones that have barely stopped ringing.
After each season-ticket package is purchased, a bell chimes inside the team’s headquarters and employees stand and applaud. Needless to say, they’ve been on their feet clapping all morning — and Johnny Football hadn’t even arrived.
When he finally made it to the team’s headquarters just before noon, a group of fans was outside to welcome him. There were also lines at the team’s gift shop at FirstEnergy Stadium, with fans waiting to buy Manziel’s jersey, not even sure he’ll be wearing No. 2.
Manziel, college football’s most exciting player, made magic on the field in his two years with the Aggies. The city hasn’t celebrated a championship since 1964 and there’s hope Manziel can help end the nearly 50-year drought.
Like other teams, the Browns passed on picking Manziel early in the draft. Cleveland made two trades and selected Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert before dealing a third-round pick to Philadelphia to move up from No. 26 to No. 22 and snag Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy as a freshman and provided numerous memorable plays with his scrambles and savvy.
Manziel’s size scared off many teams, but Browns believe his other qualities overwhelm any concern about his height.
“He’s tough. He’s passionate. He’s a gym rat,” first-year Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “He loves football. He can process information very quickly. He can improvise, make plays with his feet. I think that’s important in today’s game.”
Manziel, of course, comes with more than his dazzling skills. He’s already the best known player on Cleveland’s roster and there could be concern that his celebrity could be more than the Browns can handle.
Manziel tried to put aside any talk of selfishness after his three-hour wait in the wings at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
“I believe it’s a team game,” Manziel said. “There are a lot of factors that play into everything. I feel like in my situation coming in, whatever’s best for the team, I’m going to do and try to contribute in any way I can. I know from the top, the front office to everybody in the building when I was there, they wanted nothing more than to win and be successful, and I feel like I match that attitude.”
Pettine was in New York when the Jets had quarterback Tim Tebow, so he knows about such commotion.
“When he gets inside the building — we talked about it at length when we visited with him — what accompanies him isn’t really him,” Pettine said. “He’s a competitor. He’s a great teammate. He loves to get in and he’s passionate about football. I don’t think that (celebrity) comes into the building. We looked at it as an opportunity to add a tremendous competitor to this roster. What follows him for us was not a big factor in the decision.”
Manziel will compete with Brian Hoyer for the starting job. Hoyer made two starts before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in 2013. There may be a public push for Manziel to start, but Pettine insists that Manziel must prove himself.
“Whether he was taken at No. 4 or going at No. 22, it’ll be a competition,” Pettine said. “I don’t think you can hand jobs to people when they come in. It’s a situation where, despite what’s around him and what’s following him, there will be that pressure to play him. We’re in the business of evaluating who will be the best quarterback for the Cleveland Browns to win football games and that’s who’s going to play, whether that’s Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel.”