NEW YORK -- Johnny Manziel was experiencing the 2014 NFL Draft in reverse. All around him in the green room, the camera would run to surround the table inhabited by the latest pick. They went to Jadeveon Clowney across a narrow aisle first, and Manziel leaped up to embrace the towering, weeping man who almost certainly will sack him one day.
But then, the strangest things happened. The cameras went to Manziel's table, too. Over and over. To capture him playing with a bottle cap. Checking his phone. Taking another sip of water. As if he had been selected, time after time. The cameras captured the moments of joy around him, then whipped around to document another moment of Manziel agony, his nervousness making him look nearly nauseous. When the Jacksonville Jaguars stunned everyone by selecting Blake Bortles with the third overall pick, Manziel took another sip of water as someone nearby said, "That's not moving the meter."
When Manziel stood up and began walking away, someone had to tell the cameras that he was just going to the bathroom -- and that was telling, too. He already knew he wasn't getting picked at that moment. The quarterback-needy teams took their turns, and his agent's phone did not ring. Hour after hour, Manziel sat at his table, the one closest to the curtain that led to the stage, forced repeatedly by its position into making the uncomfortable decision to either congratulate the next lucky selectee -- which he did often, most enthusiastically for fellow Aggies Jake Matthews and Mike Evans -- or to stare down or straight ahead as one more player walked by.
"It's kind of morbid, isn't it?" said another person passing by.
The green room is an awkward place, anyway, a claustrophobic vessel for jittery families and sweating agents and random spectators like pollster Frank Luntz and pacing college coaches like Nick Saban. All of them stole glances at Manziel through his excruciating night -- which was never more so than when the Dallas Cowboys were on the clock. Could owner Jerry Jones really resist the entreaties of the Texas A&M fans and not take the quarterback who wore Cowboys blue to his draft night, matching his mother's lace dress? When somebody said the Cowboys were on the clock, someone at Greg Robinson's table said it would be Manziel. And then it wasn't -- of the possibility he could have gone to Dallas, Manziel later said, "I don't know if the world could have handled that, honestly," -- and he looked away again.
Somebody noted that the further he fell, the better the chance that he would go to a good team. His plummet seemed to consume the room, clotting the narrow aisle near his table with gawkers, obscuring the fact that Teddy Bridgewater, who had started the run-up to the draft as the quarterback most widely considered the best in the class, was slipping, too, somewhere else in the vicinity.
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And then the trade with the Philadelphia Eagles happened, and the Cleveland Browns were back on the clock with the 22nd pick. When they had selected much earlier, the cameras had clustered around Manziel, awaiting the call that did not come. But at No. 22 -- well, the Browns are painfully familiar with that spot. That is where they took Brady Quinn in 2007 and Brandon Weeden five years later. But this is another new Browns regime, with a new coach and a new general manager who are not haunted by the failures of the past, and they were seizing this draft. Just two years after Weeden, it is Manziel who is headed to the Dawg Pound -- and, perhaps fittingly, he looked more relieved than happy when the call finally came. He held the phone to an ear as the pick was announced and hunched over while the clutch of Browns fans -- one wearing a "Draft Johnny" orange shirt, another in one that read "Johnny Superbowl" -- celebrated.
While Manziel was quick to tell Cleveland reporters that it was an honor to be a first-round pick, he was also quick to note that many teams had passed on him. Manziel had worked for months to shed his "Johnny Football" image, to convince teams he was more gym rat than party boy. There was a thought, whispered as he was still waiting, that perhaps the draft slide would be good for him, that it might bring college football's brightest star down to Earth as he starts his professional career for a team and a fan base that has ached for success for decades. The Browns have missed on so many quarterbacks -- from Tim Couch to Quinn to Weeden -- and now Manziel will try to engineer another attempt at a turnaround in Cleveland.
When he stepped on the stage at Radio City Music Hall, to finally revel after more than 2 1/2 finger-biting hours, Manziel slipped back briefly into his persona -- raising his hands to rub them together in his famous signal for money. He will get paid plenty of it. And the Browns had better hope that he is money for them, too, although rookie coach Mike Pettine had said earlier he did not want to start a rookie quarterback.
He will be in the hands of new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who turned his offense inside out in Washington for Robert Griffin III, a quarterback who possesses derring-do similar to Manziel's. But because of Manziel's size (5-foot-11 3/4, 207 pounds), his durability will always be a concern -- it was impossible not to notice, when he embraced Clowney, how completely the pass rusher loomed over his future prey. On the day before the draft, when Manziel was asked about concerns that he played a "backyard football" style that might not translate to the NFL, he said he didn't want to be the quarterback he was at Texas A&M. He had watched the game film from college, he said.
"I've dissected all these games the last two years and realized, 'Man, I could've just done this and made it easier, even though this happened,' " he said. "I see that. I see that there is room for me to improve."
Perhaps Manziel will do just that, as he and the Browns surely hope. And after his nerve-racking night, all the work he will have to put in -- all the dedication that teams wanted to make sure he possessed along with his social streak -- might come more easily, too.