Friday, June 20, 2014

Tyler, TX is Browns Territory - Interview


Billboard outside of Tyler, Texas. Posted by @mcdaniel_sm on twitter. Please credit appropriately.  
Every season since the Browns returned to Cleveland in 1999 has floated in a murky lake of bitter, angry tears and from a fan base desperate to win.

Always, always waiting for next year. 

Waiting and waiting and waiting. 

Every year we tell ourselves that next year will be different. 

Finally, our promise to ourselves is on the verge of coming true. 

There has not been a 22nd pick in the NFL draft that has been the center of more buzz and hype than Johnny Manziel. The Heisman Trophy winner is full of swagger and confidence in his money play making ability. Exactly what you want in an NFL player. 

Look around Cleveland and you will see and hear football fans of all ages in Manziel gear and talking about Johnny Football. When it was announced Manziel and Justin Gilbert were hopping a plane and coming to Cleveland after the draft, a contingent of fans showed up in Berea, hoping to catch a glimpse of the rookies. One of those fans was my dad. My dad was peeking through the fence with the other fans, trying to see the new potential face of the franchise. 

As Cleveland fans, we love our Browns. We aren't a team that has a bandwagon rolling through town.  There hasn't been a reason for fans outside of Cleveland to even take notice of the team for anything positive. The last time anyone outside of Cleveland cared about a Browns player was Brady Quinn. When I lived in Indianapolis, a few Quinn jerseys were for sale in the mall because of his Notre Dame days. That was it.

Things have changed now.

Journalists and sports talk hosts and bloggers all over the country are now wanting to talk Browns football. They are talking about Cleveland by name. 

Today, in Manziel's home town of Tyler, Texas, a billboard went up, declaring Tyler as Browns Territory, deep in the heart of Texas (clap, clap).

How did that happen?

For the past few years, the Rose Capital Little League association has held a baseball tournament that also raises money to help a sick child. Previous years, it helped a child with cancer. This year, the proceeds from a silent auction at the event went to the Make a Wish Foundation. Awesome idea. One of the silent auction items was for a billboard. That day, 8 friends went in together to win the billboard, with the idea of using it to recognize Johnny Manziel.

Tyler is a town that has followed Manziel's record-breaking athletic career through high school and Texas A&M. Remember how Northeast Ohio followed a certain person's basketball games through his career at St.V/St.M? Imagine that certain person then went to the University of Akron (and Akron was twice the size) and continued breaking records. Now multiply that level of fandom by 2 or 3. Now, friends, you are seeing Texas football and the connection Texas has to Johnny Manziel.

I spoke with Jaime McDaniel, one of 8 people that won the billboard in the silent auction because I had to find out what pieces fell into place to result in that billboard beauty on the side of the highway.

Mr. McDaniel grew up with Johnny's parents and knows Johnny personally. We talked about how the entire town (I'm going to guess most of Texas, as well) couldn't believe that the Cowboys passed up on Johnny Football (I couldn't believe it either). Jerry Jones' loss is now our gain, because Cowboys fans are ditching the center field star for a spot in the Dawg Pound.

For example, Academy Sports, a sporting goods store that is comparable to Dick's Sporting Goods, now carries Browns merchandise, specifically #2 jerseys, and not just in Tyler. Word has it, stores over 3 hours away in Houston, even have Manziel merchandise. Mr. McDaniel's son already has his Browns hat and is ready to cheer for the Browns on Sundays.

Whoa.

Chatting on the phone with someone that knows Johnny, I couldn't hang up and pass up my chance to ask if JFF's Gronk partying and inflatable swan champagne swilling will be a problem. Mr. McDaniel pointed out that on game day, Johnny has always shown up and given it his all. Johnny is going to be prepared and has worked out probably harder than any other rookie.

Manziel has a connection to a young cancer survivor that will make you question his public "party boy" image.

I know that Browns fans are concerned about Johnny's off the field antics.  I say wait and see. We haven't played a game yet. He just signed his contract. Understand me clearly, if he fails to perform on the field because of shenanigans off the field, we will have a problem. But it you think he is the only professional athlete that is cutting loose during his downtime, you are a naive little bunny.

If it weren't for social media and camera phones, would anyone have even know that Johnny was in Vegas? Or would we have known about the swan? If it wasn't for Johnny Football, would we have even known Gronk was in Vegas? Would we have cared?

Joe Namath is a walking blue print for the cocky player that wants to be larger than life and full of swagger. If the world was constantly tweeted and instagramed when he played the way it is now, do you think he would have ever gotten off team probation?

*This* buttercup is going to buckle up and enjoy the ride of Johnny Cleveland mania. It is a different feeling to be this excited about the season and I like it.

While wrapping up our phone call, I asked Mr. McDaniel if he would be coming to Cleveland for a game. He told me they haven't bought tickets yet, but they "would love to come to a game."

Sir, we would love to have you and your family in town. I'm sure you won't have any problem making friends.


Note: I would like to thank the McDaniel family for chatting with me on twitter and over the phone. I appreciated being able to bug them and talk football on a Friday night. They were incredibly sweet and gracious.  I have included a portion of our conversation here, edited for clarity and space. 

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