Johnny Manziel makes his presence known in CFL debut with Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Jay Asser 3/06/2018
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Johnny Manziel in preseason practice with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Johnny Manziel’s preseason debut in the Canadian Football League had a little bit of everything: some vintage Manziel, both good and bad, as well as some trash talk and intrigue.

The former NFL quarterback was on the field for 23 plays for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in their 36-18 loss to the Toronto Argonauts.

He didn’t start, however, as that distinction went to Jeremiah Masoli, who coach June Jones said would “absolutely” be the first-stringer at the beginning of the regular season.

In the preseason outing, Masoli completed 8-of-13 passes for 115 yards, one touchdown and one interception, while Manziel finished with 9-of-11 completions for 80 yards.

He didn’t throw two interceptions, but Manziel did lose a fumble on a sack in his first drive and failed to lead the Tiger-Cats to any points during his time under centre.

And yet, he still had moments where he flashed his arm talent and ability with his legs, including an 8-yard run on an option at the end of the first half and a 21-yard dart to Damarr Aultman on his final drive, in which he scrambled out of the pocket and delivered an accurate throw on the run.

Near the end of that same drive, he was called for intentional grounding after it was determined his throw didn’t reach the line of scrimmage. Manziel was incensed about the call afterwards and while he exaggerated how poor of a decision it was, he at least appeared to be invested in a preseason game that, in the grand scheme of things, meant very little.

“Worst call of the century,” Manziel said of the intentional grounding. “I mean, my whole life I’ve been taught to throw it right at the stick that’s marking the down. I thought I got it there; he told me I was about a yard short. That’s the first time I’ve heard that.”

Manziel also delivered another notable soundbite when he spoke on the trash talk he engaged in with some of the Argonauts players.

“Listen, I’m not here to be pushed over,” he said. “You can come at me because my name’s in the papers, because my name’s on TV. You can come at me [but] I’m not backing down. I’m here for a reason. I’m here to play ball. I’m not gonna be treated like s***.”

Performance-wise, Manziel didn’t play his best game and look like a can’t-miss quarterback that should be in the NFL instead of plying his trade north of the border. He was efficient with his throws, but also displayed happy feet in the pocket as he looked to scramble more often than he should have.

But maybe more importantly, Manziel appeared to be engaged in, again, a meaningless preseason game, even if it was his first showcase in the CFL. That’s an encouraging sign for a player who has a history of losing his focus on football and getting caught up in the wrong things outside of the game.

Manziel will get his second chance to impress in the preseason when the Tiger-Cats meet Montreal next weekend.

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NFL owners trump players with new anthem policy

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Houston Texan players take a knee during the anthem last season

National Football League owners reached agreement Wednesday on a policy which would require players to stand during the national anthem but give them the option of remaining in the locker room if they preferred.

The issue of how to handle player protests has loomed over the NFL’s owners meeting in Atlanta, with the sport anxious to avoid a repeat of the controversy which divided the league last season.

America’s most popular sport found itself at the centre of a political firestorm in 2017 after President Donald Trump described players who kneeled during the anthem to draw attention to racial injustice as “sons of bitches”.

The remarks prompted a wave of protests across the league in September, angering some fans and placing several conservative, Trump-supporting team owners in an awkward position.

With the NFL’s leadership reluctant to issue a blanket decree ordering players to stand for the anthem, the deal approved Wednesday represents a compromise.

Under current NFL regulations, all players are required to be on the field during renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

However the new policy removes that requirement, allowing players who do not wish to stand to remain in the locker room.

Players who did come onto the field for the anthems would be required to stand or else risk facing fines from their respective teams.

“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

“Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has been performed.”

‘False perception’

Goodell meanwhile took issue with criticism levied at protesting players that they were “unpatriotic.”

“It was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic,” Goodell said. “This is not and was never the case.”

Goodell later said the NFL would levy fines against teams if players came onto the field and did not stand for the anthem.

“If anyone is on the field and is disrespectful to the anthem or the flag, there will be a fine from the league against the team,” Goodell told reporters. “The team will have its own rules and make their own decisions.”

Art Rooney II, the president of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said the policy was the result of extensive consultation.

“We’re not forcing anybody to stand who doesn’t feel like it,” Rooney said. “But those that are on the field are going to be asked to stand.

“We’ve listened to a lot of different viewpoints including our fans over the past year and this policy is an attempt to get to a place where we have respected everybody’s point of view as best as we could.”

The new policy received a lukewarm greeting from the NFL Players Association earlier Wednesday.

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah noted that players’ representatives were not included in discussions about the policy.

“Maybe this new rule proposal that is being voted on is a ‘compromise’ between the NFL office and club CEOs on various sides of the issue, but certainly not with player leadership,” Atallah said. “We weren’t there or part of the discussions.”

The kneeling protest was started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 as a way to protest police brutality, racial injustice and social inequality.

Kaepernick’s protest followed a wave of deaths involving black men during confrontations with law enforcement.

In 2017, Kaepernick was unable to get an NFL job and the kneel protest was waning until Trump made an issue of it, saying the move was disrespectful to the nation and the flag – motivations never assigned by Kaepernick.

Free agents Kaepernick and Eric Reid are suing the NFL, saying league owners colluded to keep them unsigned as retaliation for the protests.

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What you need to know about new Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper

Jay Asser 17/05/2018
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The Carolina Panthers have a new owner in David Tepper, who agreed to buy the franchise from Jerry Richardson for $2.2 billion.

The record-breaking price is the highest for an NFL team, surpassing the $1.4 billion for the Buffalo Bills in 2014.

Here’s what you need to know about 60-year-old Tepper and what he means for the Panthers.

Staying put

Most importantly for Carolina fans, Tepper is expected to keep the team where they are and not relocate.

Of course, with Tepper’s background as a shrewd businessman, it’s fair to wonder if that could change down the road when an opportunity opens up. But at the moment, according to all indications, Tepper shares Richardson’s vision for the franchise in the North Carolina region.

Familiar face

Tepper is actually already a known name in NFL circles because he’s a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For that reason, it was simpler for the NFL to approve the sale of the Panthers to him as he’s already passed the league’s vetting process.

Tepper, who was born in Pittsburgh, will have to sell his 5 per cent stake in the Steelers before completing the Panthers purchase.

Money man

Tepper will immediately become one of the wealthiest owners in the NFL, thanks to his background as the founder of global hedge fund Appaloosa Management.

His net worth, according to Forbes, is a whopping $11 billion, so he certainly knows how to make money.

His Appaloosa offices have the look of a high-end sports bar, with Steelers memorabilia dispersed throughout.

Anti-Trump

It’s unclear how much it will matter, but one interesting tidbit on Tepper is that he’s not a fan of United States President Donald Trump.

He hasn’t been shy in his criticism of Trump, having spoken on his disapproval of the President in interviews and even at his alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University.

“You have one person with questionable judgment and the other person may be demented, narcissistic and a scumbag,” Tepper said back in October 2016, ahead of the Presidential election, in an interview on CNBC. “Not saying which one’s which. You can make your own decision on that.”

Trump has his fair share of supporters among owners in the NFL, but he also faced resistance last season when the league pushed back at him regarding the national anthem protests.

With Tepper now one of the most important people in the NFL, there’s a chance he and Trump butt heads.

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