Written by Matthew Welty (@matthewjwelty)
Late last night, news broke that Nike had a new signee. It wasn’t a professional that had already been drafted and signed to a team or a white-hot rapper. It was a 21-year-old kid who has barely sprouted facial hair, from Tyler, Tx. The signee, however, wasn’t just any college kid. It was Johnny Football, who won a Heisman Trophy as a freshman and almost single-handedly made Texas A&M a relevant football program.
Johnny Football—who, if you’re unsure, is actually named Johnny Manziel—is projected to be a first-round draft pick, and could make football sneakers cool again.
There are several NFL player-endorsed sneakers currently on the market. Darrelle Revis and Calvin Johnson have sneakers with Nike, and Cam Newton is doing his Superman pose while lacing up super high-tops from Under Armour. None of those players, though, in all of their stardom, currently have the same media spotlight as Manziel has coming into the 2014 NFL Draft.
Revis lost steam as he was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and suffered a knee injury. Newton is a huge star, and like Manizel, won a Heisman Trophy, but Under Armour will never be Nike. And more people recognize Johnson in his uniform than in plain clothes.
Manziel is just different. He’s already BFFs with Team Jordan member Drake, and has a swagger that’s apparent when he’s on and off the field. He’s not exactly a tried-and-true commodity: There’s much debate on whether he’ll be able to stand up to the physical demands of the NFL with his 6’1, 209-pound frame. But his personality and gunslinging play could recapture the glory days of NFL sneakers.
People bought Deion Sanders' sneakers not only because he ran back kickoffs, intercepted passes, and played baseball, too, but because he had a larger-than-life persona and danced all over the field. Bo Jackson helped launch the “Bo Knows” Nike ad campaign, and every kid played as him in Tecmo Bowl. Barry Sanders had cuts like no one had ever seen before, and Emmitt Smith was the star running back on “America’s Team.” Randy Moss’ catches and leaping ability had him labeled as a “Super Freak,” and Jordan capitalized on that opportunity.
There's something that’s been missing in the conversation of NFL players and sneakers.
On top of that, all of their sneakers were great. There's something that’s been missing in the conversation of NFL players and sneakers. Manziel and Nike have the opportunity to create a dynamic partnership. Nike just needs to deliver Manziel an exciting silhouette and let his brash and daredevil behavior sell it.
He has the chance to combine skill, design, and ad campaign unlike any of the other players in the NFL. Revis has a good shoe, but the best colorways to release have been limited to friends and family only. And Johnson needed Diddy to help carry his Nike commercial. Manziel could do all of that on his own.
In fact, a lot of the NFL’s biggest sneakerheads are players that just don’t grasp the superstar label. They’re just guys with insane collections. Sure, Michael Crabtree and Earl Thomas are signed to Jordan Brand, but it’s unlikely that they will receive anything more than exclusive product and PE cleats.
If only giving Manziel a sneaker and calling it a day were that easy, though. There’s a huge risk involved in Nike signing him: He could never pan out as a player, or his off-field antics—which included signing helmets, getting kicked out of the Manning Passing Academy quarterback camp, and getting arrested for underage drinking—could land him in hot water, but that’s the intrigue of Johnny Football. He's a risky proposition.
His deal with Nike is a Hail Mary—but he’s already completed those before. He just needs to get Drake to wear and Instagram his signature sneaker, if it ever comes to fruition, and he and Nike can high-step their way to the bank.