It seems as if Johnny Football doesn't read the NFL zeitgeist any better than he reads NFL defenses.
Johnny Manziel's antics might have been overlooked in the NFL 40, 30 or even 20 years ago, when a quarterback's partying and skirt-chasing were considered a perk of the job -- even a source of envy or amusement. But all Manziel did last week was get himself demoted from the Cleveland Browns' starter to third string, when another of his bar-room visits was caught on video -- this time when he turned up in Austin, Texas, on a Browns off day. This occurred just days after Browns head coach Mike Pettine declared Manziel, who reportedly lied to the team about when the Austin video was recorded, would be his starter for the rest of the season.
Manziel should know by now that his kind of quarterback profile doesn't fly in the NFL the way it used to back in the day, when many fans could tell you that the drink of choice for Sonny Jurgensen and Bobby Layne was Scotch, that Joe Namath had a stated preference for tall, blonde "broads" over brunettes, and that the quarterback character in former NFL receiver Pete Gent's novel "North Dallas Forty" (later one of the best sports movies ever made) was loosely based on "Dandy" Don Meredith, the former Cowboys quarterback who went on to fame as the comic foil opposite Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football.
But today's NFL clubs are billion-dollar enterprises that use advanced analytics, film study and offenses so complex their quarterbacks unashamedly wear laminated cards of plays on their forearms to help them remember calls. The position is more demanding than ever. And clubs seem to want their quarterbacks more trustworthy than ever. It's not hard to connect the dots and see how the NFL has changed, as this list of the near-demise of partying QBs shows:
Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer: Jurgensen, a five-time Pro Bowler, earned his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame by being one of the most daring passers of his time. On the other hand, Kilmer was often kidded about his wobbly passes. But the two men were great friends even during the three seasons that they controversially shared time as starter during the Redskins' resurgence under George Allen in the 1970s. Fans were so split, some wore "I Love Billy" or "I Love Sonny" buttons.
So how did the two men navigate the competition? Kilmer, who picked up the nickname "Old Whiskey Face" along the way, joked, "It didn't hurt that we hung out in the same saloons." And Jurgensen, who played to 40? He was similarly flip when tweaked for having the sort of belly that suggested he might swill a few beers. "I throw with my arm, not my stomach," he scoffed.
Joe Namath: Namath was the subject of an NFL-versus-AFL bidding war when he left the University of Alabama and caused a sensation when he signed a record three-year, $427,000 deal with the Jets. The buzz about him grew when he picked up the nickname "Broadway Joe" before he had played a pro down, thanks to a Sports Illustrated cover story, and moved into an Upper East Side penthouse apartment that he paid $25,000 to have furnished with a black leather bar, an oval bed, Siberian snow-leopard pillows and a wall-to-wall white llama rug.
But Namath delivered on the hype early in his career. He won rookie of the year in 1965, guided the 1968 Jets to their only Super Bowl win and even cemented a spot in the Playboy anthology "Sports Gods" for a no-holds-barred 1969 interview that included an extended riff on why he preferred to have sex on the eve of games. "I try to," Namath said. "It depends on how I feel that night. Before one game last year, I just sat home by myself and watched television, drank a little tequila to relax and went to sleep fairly early."
How'd that go? "When we won the league championship," Namath said, "all the married guys on the club had to thank their wives for putting up with all the stress and strain all season. I had to thank all the single broads in New York."
Kenny "The Snake" Stabler: Maybe it had something to do with following Namath at Alabama, but Stabler was another quarterback who wasn't shy about fessing up to what he did off the field. And Al Davis' anything-goes Oakland Raiders were the perfect landing place for him.
Much like Namath -- who temporarily "retired" to protest NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle's order to him to sell his share of Bachelors III, a Manhattan nightclub he co-owned -- Stabler pushed back at critics who harped on his late-night barhopping. He famously said, "There's nothing wrong with studying a game plan by the light of a jukebox" and "Hell, my lifestyle hasn't changed in 20 years. It was all right when we won the Super Bowl, but then we lost some games, and all of a sudden I'm a fat drunk, out of shape, overweight and all that."
When Stabler passed away this summer at age 69 from colon cancer, former Raiders coach John Madden said, "He always had a twinkle in his eye and a smile. ... There were times when he'd throw the ball low and he'd go, 'Low-ball thrower. High-ball drinker. Huddle up. Let's go.' "
Jim McMahon: When the Chicago Bears finished 15-1 in 1985, McMahon became a media sensation for his maverick personality as well as his above-average play. In "The Super Bowl Shuffle," the famed rap video the team made during the season, McMahon's line was, "I'm the punky QB known as McMahon." And the image stuck. He had spiked hair, constantly wore wraparound sunglasses (few knew it was for a cornea problem) and engaged in infamous antics such as mooning a news helicopter during a Bears practice for Super Bowl XX or drinking shots with teammates in the locker room.
McMahon's career also feels like the point where the pendulum for star quarterbacks who might not be worth the trouble starts to shift. Within three years of that Bears Super Bowl, McMahon had a falling out with team president Michael McCaskey and, to a lesser extent, coach Mike Ditka. McMahon was traded to San Diego in 1989 despite owning the Bears' record for wins by a quarterback (46). But the rift seemed repaired by the time McMahon returned to Chicago for a team reunion in 2010 at Ditka's restaurant.
"I kept telling our waitress, 'I think this is all on Mike,' but she didn't buy it," McMahon cracked.
Kyle Orton: Though Orton's college career at Purdue never inspired the sort of hysteria that Manziel's run to the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M did, Orton is probably the first quarterback to stumble and bumble his way through the Internet age as regularly as Manziel.
At various times in his pro career, Orton was videotaped or photographed drinking whiskey from the bottle, throttling the neck of an open magnum of Veuve Cliquot champagne, partying in the back of a limo and generally looking disheveled, often in the company of numerous folks who looked the same.
Much like Manziel this past offseason, Orton vowed to clean up his act, too. He'd just become the Bears' starting quarterback in 2009. But by 2012, the party-animal photos started surfacing again for the man nicknamed The Bottle. He retired in 2014 after one season with the Buffalo Bills, his sixth team in nine seasons in the NFL.
Matt Leinart: Another Internet party-animal star. Leinart was the starting quarterback from 2003-2005 for USC's powerhouse teams, winning two national titles and a Heisman Trophy. His NFL career seemed promising when he was drafted 10th overall in 2006 by the Arizona Cardinals. But Leinart didn't stop his frat-party antics when he left college. Like Manziel and Orton, he built a diverse oeuvre of Internet party photos that show him chugging from beer bongs and hanging out in hot tubs with women.
At one point, then-Cardinals coach Ken Wisenhunt tried to persuade Leinart to slow down and shape up. But Leinart was soon shoved into a backup role and later released by Arizona. He spent time with the Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills, where he lasted only five days in 2012. He was out of the NFL by age 28.
Mark Sanchez: Sanchez, Leinart's successor at USC, took Rex Ryan's New York Jets to two AFC title games in his first two years with help from a strong defense. But he played his way out of town once teammates began griping he was too "coddled" and immature, not just turnover-prone. Along the way, he became infamous for The Butt Fumble and Butt Video. (Not even Manziel can claim that.)
The Butt Fumble was the endlessly mocked play in 2012 in which Sanchez ran into the backside of one of his own offensive lineman, and the New England Patriots' Steve Gregory grabbed the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown, sparking a 49-19 rout of the Jets. Sanchez didn't exactly sound like Einstein when he explained afterward, "I was thinking a different play in my head. That was a mental error there."
Sanchez became the butt of jokes again during the 2013 offseason when an Internet video surfaced of him dropping his drawers in front of women in the kitchen of a rented Napa Valley townhouse and pogoing around semi-nude while yelling something unintelligible. "Now it's become a thing to try and catch Mark doing something stupid," said Erik Ainge, Sanchez's backup and self-described wingman for a while with the Jets. "He's stupid while being stupid. You have to be smart while being stupid, and he's dumb while being dumb."