FOX SPORTS

Weekend Warrior: September 3

Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel
Manziel should take a page from wrestling and turn heel.
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Joel Beall

Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall.

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Welcome to the Weekend Warrior, your web-based congregation for water-cooler discussion. We will get you up to speed on what you missed over the past few days and what’s on this week’s itinerary. At worse, this will give you a five-minute respite from being productive at work or school.

It’s easy for a sports figure to be vilified in today’s now-now-NOW media cycle, as one slip-up is magnified to the nth degree. Cultural differences can play a part in this abuse, like an athlete’s pizzazz being distorted as grandstanding, and lack of context has translated to its fair share of criticism. Playing for the wrong or rival team is undoubtedly a catalyst for disparagement, and, as anyone who’s ever read a comment section can attest, some people simply drink the Haterade. So when a player is referred to as a thug, jerk, punk or other four-letter word, it usually needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

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But Johnny Manziel is putting that theory to the test.

Mr. Football gave his detractors more ammo for the arsenal with a late-game benching for unsportsmanlike conduct against Rice. Where other Manziel missteps could be pardoned (“He should be allowed to profit off his name…of course he drinks, he’s in college…what’s that girl doing at the Manning camp anyway?”), hard to call his actions on Saturday as anything but petty. It wasn’t just that his behavior was sophomoric and trite, or that his smack talk reeked of unoriginality; it was brandishing such manners against Rice that seemed malicious.

Yet I’m not here to wear the white wig. Plenty of columnists are already riding that train. Instead, I have a simple proposal to young jedi Manziel:

Embrace the dark side.

Next time you find the end zone, get your Shooter McGavin on and whip out the double pistols. Study the gestures and persona of Jim McMahon. (And just like your other classes, you can do it “online”!) Start referring to yourself in the third person. Demand you enter the field separately from the team during introductions. Turn your Twitter into a troll space.

As Rowdy Roddy Piper, Kevin Spacey and the Detroit Pistons have proved, there’s nothing wrong with playing the bad guy. In fact, for the all animosity in sports, there’s no true consciously nefarious superstar in our current landscape.

LeBron tried welcoming an anti-hero character after his move to South Beach, though ultimately didn’t have the temperament for that attitude to endure. Moreover, outside the confines of Northern Ohio, there’s little deep-rooted hostility for King James. Alex Rodriguez should have gone this route versus straining to be beloved. Even if he wanted to be a foil, he’s too much of a joke at this point, and far from the peak of his game to be considered a star. Floyd Mayweather is arguably the most successful performer to champion an outlaw approach; alas, since most sports fans couldn’t name three other boxers, Mayweather wouldn’t be classified as universally despised.

At this juncture, there’s enough baggage in Manziel‘s wagon to warrant the infamous “character issue” tag, and once this label’s applied, it’s tough to shed. Playing a heel might be the only saving grace for Manziel. Judging by his actions on and off the gridiron, as well as the excess of pieces on those who have spent time with Manziel (including Wright Thompson’s fabulous essay on the Texas A&M quarterback this summer), it’s a role that seems suited for his personality.

Because once he implements the black hat, we can discuss what really matters. For lost in the cash-counting gestures and air signatures from Saturday was Manziel’s near-flawless display. So much has happened since January that you almost forget, Oh yeah, this cat can ball. Few are as electrifying as Manziel, so let’s sit back and watch one of the more entertaining shows on turf.

Besides, who says the lead actor needs to be a hero? As we’ve seen with Breaking Bad, pulling for the villain can be just as exciting.

Weekend winners

 

5. Teddy Bridgewater
Bridgewater surgically disemboweled my Ohio Bobcats on Sunday, going 23-for-28 for 355 yards and five scores in Louisville’s win. Bridgewater is the primary contender to Manziel’s Heisman throne, and with the Cardinals’ relatively easy schedule, should post video game-like numbers on a consistent basis. How good is Bridgewater? He’s the top “Teddy” search result on Google, ahead of “Roosevelt” and “bear.” In a related note, anyone else find it disconcerting that the field general for the No. 10 team in the country holds search-engine precedence over one of our nation’s greatest presidents? Between that and observing a troubling amount of Lime-a-Rita’s at a ballgame this weekend, I’m starting to lose faith in America.

4. Diana Nyad
The 64-year-old endurance swimmer made history by swimming from Havana to Key West. After completing her journey, Nyad said to a crowd of supporters, “You’re never too old to chase your dreams.” Given that I’m turning 27 this week, Nyad’s feat gives me hope that my wicked knuckleball will still propel me to the majors. Looking at the Houston Astros roster, that aspiration might not be as whimsical as believed.

3. Clemson Tigers
Hey, Clemson didn’t pull a Clemson and actually won a big game! A rendezvous with Florida State on October 19 should be a dandy.

2. Returning-from-injury NFL stars
Despite slightly-ominous consent from Dr. James Andrews, Robert Griffin III sounds ready to roll for Week 1. Giants wideout Victor Cruz might be able to play against the Cowboys and everyone’s favorite loveable lug Rob Gronkowski is putting on pads again. Also, E.J. Manuel hasn’t been ruled out, meaning…who are we kidding, it’s the Bills. Let the Jeff Tuel Era begin!

1. Pittsburgh Pirates
Everyone keeps waiting for the Buccos to suffer a second-half collapse, similar to their late-summer breakdowns from the previous two seasons. Yet here we are in September and the Pirates are still atop the NL Central. Recent acquisitions of Justin Morneau, Marlon Byrd and John Buck were much-needed upgrades to a prosaic offense, and All-Star reliever Jason Grilli is nearing return. The starting rotation is showing signs of cracks, but with a playoff berth all but secured, winning baseball is finally back in the Steel City.

Weekend losers

 

5. Max Papis
If a World Truck Series racer is making headlines, something incredibly awesome or incredibly embarrassing went down. Or in this case, both.

4. Beamer Ball
Dear college kids: please don’t play a drinking contest during Virginia Tech games where consumption is done at every mention of “Beamer Ball” or “Bud Foster’s defense.” You will die.

Anyway, the Hokies’ noted emphasis on special teams and defense was kicked to the curb against Alabama, as the Crimson Tide notched two return touchdowns versus Frank Beamer’s club. Granted, Alabama will make most teams look bad, but hopefully that puts a temporary kibosh on the weekly special-teams sermons from announcing crews this fall.

3. St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians
A rough couple days for the Red Birds, losing four of five to divisional foes Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. And after dropping two games to Detroit, the Indians finished the season with a 4-15 record against the Tigers, telling as Motown owns a 8 ½-game lead in the division. Cheer up St. Louis and Cleveland fans. At least the Rams and Browns start their championship runs this week. Woohoo!

2. Oakland Raiders
The Silver and Black believed they snagged a quarterback of the future in Tyler Wilson in April’s Draft. Four months later, Wilson is not even on Oakland’s 53-man roster, with the team deciding undrafted Matt McGloin has a higher ceiling than the former All-SEC arm. Wilson cleared waviers and signed on to the Oakland practice squad, which is fairly telling considering the quarterback situation across the league. (Again, Jeff Tuel.) While this is humiliating for Wilson, who at one point was envisioned as a first-round pick, it’s equally disgracing for the Raiders, as the franchise’s continued misses in the draft keep it miles away from retaining relevancy.

1. American Athletic Conference
Not an auspicious debut for the league, with Connecticut losing to Towson and South Florida getting smoked by McNeese State. Even the conference’s emblem looks like an off-brand shoe logo you’d see on a four-stripe Adidas knock-off. With Louisville bolting for greener pastures next year, not a particularly bright horizon for the AAC.

MIKE MAKES THE CALLS

Our rules guru Mike Pereira says this new targeting rule could be a problem.

Other news of note

Two fans were busted attempting to steal ivy from Wrigley Field on Sunday morning. It was the first successful throw out for the Cubs all season. (Thank you, thank you.)

Former Atlanta Hawks forward Ivan Johnson signed with a Chinese Basketball Association club. The reason this is newsworthy: besides being an adequate energy man and backup, Johnson is a certified crazy person. The man’s banned from playing in Korea for giving the bird to an official and once punched a hole in the wall at a gym. There’s a 71 percent chance Johnson’s tenure in China will cause World War III.

Ex-heavyweight Tommy Morrison, a.k.a Tommy “The Machine” Gun from Rocky V, died at 44.

The Jets continue to rearrange the deck chairs of their doomed ship by signing Brady Quinn.

Colts rookie John Boyett tried to get out of public intoxication charges by playing the, “Don’t you know WHO I AM?!?!” card, to no avail. I feel his pain. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve used that line, only acting like I’m a punter for the Bengals.

Henrik Stenson parlayed a beautiful Monday round into a win at the Deutsche Bank Championship, taking advantage of a bumpy round from third-round leader Sergio Garcia. No idea if Sergio plans on asking Stenson out to a reindeer dinner.

Finally, a former Jets third-stringer was cut by the Pats. People are rushing to mock Tim Tebow, but I'm not writing him off just yet. Again...JEFF TUEL MIGHT START A NFL GAME! For real, you telling me Tebow can’t find a job in such a work environment?

Week Ahead

 

Football! Football! FOOTBALL! The Baltimore Ravens open at Mile High against the Denver Broncos on Thursday night, kicking off the 2013 NFL season. The defending Super Bowl champs won’t have many familiar faces in their title defense, as Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Bernard Pollard and Anquan Boldin are no longer with the team. However, the Ravens added sackmaster Elvis Dumervil from the Broncos, and still have one of the deeper front sevens to form a solid resistance. For Denver, all eyes will be on the Broncos’ aerial assault, with the addition of Wes Welker expected to take the team over the hump. While the passing game will be must-see viewing, interested to see how the Broncos backfield situation plays out. Neither Ronnie Hillman nor Montee Ball had great training camps, and Denver’s offensive line has already seen some injury setbacks. If the running attack stalls, it could be a long season for Peyton Manning and company.

On the baseball front, playoff races are heating up with the Tigers in Fenway, the Rangers and A’s battling in Oakland, and the Cardinals taking on the Reds. Although stumbling out of the post-All-Star gate, the A’s defeat of the Rangers on Monday tied the two teams for first in the AL West. You better believe last year’s September crumble is fresh in the minds of Texas, making the rest of this series vital for the Rangers’ psyche.

In the college pigskin realm, a feisty Florida Atlantic team travels to East Carolina for the FOX Sports 1 Thursday game of the night. For those unfamiliar with the Pirates, East Carolina is a hidden treat. The team runs a hybrid of Texas Tech’s famed air-raid offense to similar success of Mike Leach’s old squads, evidenced in quarterback Shane Carden accumulation of 447 yards with five scores in the opening game. Make sure to catch the Pirates in action.

Tweet of the Day

 

This off the heels of Winston’s ridiculous introduction to the nation last night, hitting 25-of-27 targets for 356 yards and four touchdowns. Gotta love SEC fans. Part of me wants to counter that the ACC scored the biggest win of the weekend over a top SEC team, but that’s bringing facts and logic into the discussion, and there’s no place for that on Twitter.

Oh, and Winston? Yeah, I think he’s going to be alright.

Weekend Movie Review

 

In the midst of all the football and baseball action, as well as getting some time on the golf course and hardwood, made time for a viewing of Drinking Buddies. Went in thinking the film would be a comedy, but the subject matter is slightly more morose than imagined. Also hit a little close to home, as the premise centers on late-20 somethings who bond over brews and think their relationship might outstretch the constrictions of the friend zone. But anytime I started to contemplate the questions the movie presented (Did I let “the one” get away? Am I drinking too much? OMG, I’m wasting MY LIFE!), I snapped back to reality thanks to the, ahem, “acting prowess” of Olivia Wilde. My goodness, that woman is an angel.

Good film, but save it for a rainy Tuesday night. And guys, definitely don’t watch it with your lady. Decent odds a fight will start because of the flick.

Thanks for stopping by, and check back on Friday, when we take a look to the upcoming weekend!

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