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Manziel Story Heading for Nightmare

Atlanta — It was a great story: Redshirt freshman wins quarterback job for Texas A&M, a team facing its first season in the high-falutin’ SEC; he engineers a famous upset of Alabama; he wins the Heisman Trophy; he becomes a brand unto himself - Johnny Football.

Seven months after claiming his Heisman, Johnny Football — his real name is Johnny Manziel — has grown too big for his environs. On Saturday he Tweeted — this according to the Dallas Morning News, which caught the bulletin before it was deleted — that “(expletive) like tonight is one reason why I can’t wait to leave College Station.”

Johnny Football is about to be a redshirt sophomore. He has three years of eligibility remaining. He’ll also be eligible for the NFL draft after this season, though it’s unclear whether his singular style — he’s not very big (listed as 6-foot-1), and he runs around a lot — will translate to the pro game.

It remains unclear what prompted Manziel’s get-me-outta-here Tweet. What is clear is the pride of College Station has spent the past seven months distancing himself from College Station. One night after leading the Aggies to an emphatic Cotton Bowl victory over Oklahoma, Manziel posted a photo of himself in an Oklahoma casino. He was holding a handful of bills, and they didn’t appear to be of the $1 denomination. When some among his audience wondered if a casino was indeed a proper venue for a 20-year-old student-athlete, Manziel Tweeted: “Nothing illegal about being 18+ in a casino and winning money ... KEEP HATING!”

About here, you wondered: Who exactly HATES Johnny Football? He’s a dynamic and engaging player, and his is, as noted, a great story. But he has become less engaging the more we see of him, and we’ve seen him a lot —just not in the traditional role of student-athlete.

In December, he sat courtside in Dallas when the Miami Heat played the Mavericks. TNT analyst Steve Kerr wondered how a student-athlete could afford such a ticket. Manziel responded, again via Twitter: “Bought myself a little birthday present tonight. Stop hating!”

He attended the NBA’s All-Star weekend in Houston. At an earlier game in that city, he’d posed with James Harden in the Rockets’ locker room. (Thoughtfully, Manziel posted the photo on Instagram.) He took batting practice and threw out the first pitch at a San Diego Padres game.

He revealed that he was taking all of his spring classes online because of the furor he caused whenever he showed his face on campus. (He did allow that he would be taking actual classes at A&M in the fall.) In spring practice — he did show up for that — he threw three interceptions in a scrimmage and shoved a graduate assistant who had the temerity to get excited over one.

Don’t forget, Texas A&M is not just any campus. There’s a strong military element to Aggie Nation, a sense that the whole is bigger than the individual. It might not have been Manziel’s intention to set himself apart from his peers, but that’s the clear impression he keeps giving.

He hasn’t exactly done anything wrong — he hasn’t been arrested since June 2012, when he was charged with disorderly conduct and possession of a fake ID, and he hasn’t run afoul of the NCAA — but you’d be hard-pressed to say he’s doing it right. In a follow-up Tweet after expressing his displeasure with College Station, Manziel wrote: “Don’t forget that I love A&M with all of my heart, but please please walk a day in my shoes.”

Let’s see: Heisman winner, idol of millions, friend of James Harden — are those shoes really so uncomfortable? Just by saying that, I realize I’m stamping myself as a HATER, but let’s be clear. I don’t hate Johnny Manziel. I just hate that he seems determined to take a great story and turn it into a cautionary tale.