Edwards: On Johnny, hate and the importance of work (and winning)

In the wake of Charles-Antoine Sinotte’s very predictable report that Montreal quarterback Johnny Manziel is “hated” by his teammates, there have been a number of other journalists as well as some current and former players weighing in with an equally boilerplate counter-argument: nope, people in inside the locker room like Johnny just fine.

Here’s a sample:

I say predictable because the Alouettes are 3-13, have lost five straight and are 0-6 with Manziel as a starter. The Als are going to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight year and they are finishing the season by playing a succession of meaningless football games (again.)

Losing makes people cranky and while that may seem like a Captain Obvious statement sometimes I wonder if CFL fans understand just how dramatically the mood and culture shift within an organization when the losses pile up. Part of it is the hyper-competitive nature of most professional athletes, coaches and executives: former Ticats general manager Bob O’Billovich once told me he wouldn’t let his grandson win at Tiddly Winks, he had to earn it. For those people, their entire lives – endless hours of training, travelling, scouting, film work and a ton of other really mundane stuff – is poured into the game. When the outcome on the 18 days that really matter is a series of disappointments, it can be demoralizing.

The other part is fear. Losses inevitably lead to change: it’s not a coincidence there’s speculation about job security of the leadership in Toronto and Edmonton (though apparently not in Montreal but that’s a story for another day.) Player turnover is, generally speaking, higher on losing teams. It makes people nervous.

One of the side effects of that is they speak out to journalists, who are more than happy to turn that frustration into salacious reading (or in the case Sinotte, must-see TV.) There was a “Jason Maas has lost the room” story in Edmonton. There are hard questions being asked in Toronto. And I unleashed a scathing tome based on end-of-season disgruntlement in Hamilton as they were finishing up last year’s disappointing campaign.

I mention all this in context of Johnny HateGate (and no, we won’t call it that going forward, I promise) because it’s very possible – even likely – that both things are true. There are players in that Alouettes locker room who do not like their quarterback and there are those that do. Manziel seems like he might be a fun guy to be around if you’re a certain kind of person and his fame – and it’s real fame, not the CFL or Canadian version – would be appealing to some. For others, it would be an irritant. Manziel is such a polarizing figure and that makes players in the Alouettes locker room jealous just like the rest of the world. Football players are like us, they put their pants on one leg at a time – they are just bigger pants.

Of all the takes on this story, one of the most interesting exchanges comes from former Alouettes QB Tanner Marsh and Alouettes play-by-play voice Rick Moffatt, via Twitter.

Moffatt is hinting at the same thing Hamilton head coach June Jones alluded to when they shipped Manziel to Montreal: that Manziel doesn’t put in the work necessary to be a quality quarterback. Incidentally, it’s the same thing they said about him in college (where his athleticism alone was enough to be successful) and in Cleveland (where it clearly wasn’t.) Marsh, meanwhile, raises the same point Justin Dunk made on the 3Down podcast this week: that most other quarterbacks in this league would have lost their jobs after starting their careers 0-6. Even guys with better CFL resumes – James Franklin and Jon Jennings to name two – have been shown the bench this season without getting that much leash.

Putting the work in won’t get you liked. Neither will winning games: in a locker room with 75 players, there will always be some guys that don’t like each other. But what commitment – and, even more importantly, victories – will do is keep those beefs inside the room and away from the pundits and click baiters and Twitter jockeys. Until he does that, however, Manziel – like everybody else – is just talk.

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