I like Johnny Football’s game. I like to watch Johnny play football.After last Saturday, I still like Johnny Football’s game, still like to watch Johnny play football.Apparently, all of the above suddenly places me in a vast minority of Americans, Texans and honorable persons of all races.But that’s OK.To borrow from the late great Muddy man, I love the life I live, and live the life I love.You live yours. I’ll live mine.Let’s see here.Reading the other day, Brother Engel’s opinion in this newspaper, we can blame Johnny Manziel for a caste system in our country, bullying, the local drought, the local whooping cough outbreak and Syria.Mac is not alone here. It’s been a national pile-on.Whatever else, it became official last weekend, right there in the second half of a football game between Texas A&M and Rice — yes, Rice — that Manziel, at age 20, and just a year removed from total obscurity, has now become … America’s Most Hated.We are talking here, of course, about jock kingdom hate, which is not supposed to be real hate, but Johnny Football caused such an emotional tsunami from all ZIP codes, particularly Bristol, Conn., we seem to be pushing up against the fine line.Manziel, of course, brought it all on himself. Maybe you heard, the kid had a rather active January through August binge, broke rules along the way and became a prime part of the growing breed of social media activity known as The Twitter Idiot.Old news:After ESPN had presented ample evidence (except for the money) that Johnny took cash payoffs from autograph brokers, the NCAA does what the NCAA always does when its own cash cows are involved in hanky panky.Johnny skated. He’s the face of college football for now. The kid at Florida State may be next. But the NCAA won’t touch The Face, until a new one has been anointed. And it didn’t.None of the above is what I liked about Johnny, and the haters really hated the skate job.But, finally, the games started Saturday.This is what I really liked about Johnny. And also really liked about the Night Birds of Rice University.Manziel entered that game after his first-half suspension, and played cocky, feisty and defiant.Just because America wanted him to act like he was repentant, just because America expected him to play nice, Johnny immediately told the namby-pamby crowd to go stick it.Defensive members of the Night Birds, bless ’em, went after him immediately with verbal taunts. Manziel answered immediately. Answered with hand gestures and dog-cussing of his own.Cocky, feisty and defiant, plus talented, is why we immediately loved Johnny Football a year ago. But Saturday, it’s why we hated him. Or, you hated him.And then, right there at the game’s end, is when he crossed the line. Or might have crossed the line, depending on if you believe Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin.I believe him.First, the 15-yard penalty Manziel drew for taunting is not that big a deal unless it happens at the wrong time. Like in a tight game. This one came in a blowout situation, and with two Rice defensive players mouthing at Johnny, he either mouthed back or started the mouthing, then pointed to the scoreboard.For Sumlin, that was a good coaching moment. Jump Johnny’s butt. And Sumlin did.But as Manziel walked off the field, having been benched by the coach, he kept walking as Sumlin yelled at him. Sumlin then bumped Johnny, which I really liked.Personally, I would have cheered Sumlin if he had taken down Johnny with a horse-collar tackle.Since then, Manziel has been hammered in the national media for not stopping and listening to his coach, and/or not responding. And Sumlin has been accused in some media quarters of losing control of his meal ticket, which is real unfair to the coach.Speaking of the fine line, we see players being jumped by a coach (watch Gary Patterson at any TCU game) and they keep walking and the coach follows as long as he wants to keep delivering his message.The TV cameras picked it up Saturday night in the TCU-LSU game, with Patterson on the verbal prowl and the player he targeted moving as quickly as possible toward the bench, which is the recommended hiding place.No big deal then, and really, according to Sumlin, no big deal in College Station. The very wrong thing, at that point, would have been for Johnny to stop and respond, said the coach, who didn’t want a response. He just wanted both of Manziel’s ears to be open.To me, Johnny should have stopped. But I don’t think it’s a felony that he didn’t.Whether Manziel wanted it or not, he’s now got it. In a way, he’s earned it, too.America’s Most Hated.Johnny Football is not a team-wrecker, he’s not a team-divider (some friends with UT ties are now comparing him to Eldorado Owens, which is really, really dumb) but he’s cocky, feisty and arrogant on the field.How will Johnny Football handle The Most Hated tag? And handle the additional media meltdown that came with the Rice game?The answer won’t take long. Alabama is coming to College Station in 10 days.It will be the biggest college game of the month, maybe of the year.That’s because of Johnny being Johnny, for better and sometimes, worse.He’s not going to play nice just because you think he should.I don’t know Johnny Football, so I can’t say I like him. But I like his game. Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM.
Randy Galloway, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @sportsdfw