COLLEGE STATION — After all of the off-season escapades, after all of the autographs, the tweets, the courtside seats and the abbreviated summer gig at the Manning Passing Academy, the kid still showed what he’s all about.He dodges. He dashes. He passes for 464 yards. He refuses to stay down. He’s Johnny Football. Some of us forgot that about Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel while we were watching him act like a traveling circus act in the off-season. We forgot how special he is. We forgot how unique he can be.Truly, 562 yards of total offense all by himself against the two-time national champion, Alabama, qualifies as unique. Truly, passing for five touchdowns — some with signature aplomb — against the Crimson Tide defense qualifies as unique. Truly, throwing a comeback, fourth-quarter fright into Nick Saban’s vaunted Tide qualifies as unique.But that’s why he’s Johnny Football. Shame on us for judging him by his off-season.Between the lines, as they say, Manziel was all business Saturday. Somehow, he lived up to the game’s substantial pregame hype, even though the Aggies’ defense made the ending seem all for naught. Alabama 49, Texas A&M 42, was not the verdict that the upset-minded Aggies had dreamed of. But it rekindles the Johnny Football legend.Cue the Roman candles. Restart the Heisman talk.And if the Aggies can somehow grow themselves a real defense by November, who knows?That was the subtle message that echoed from A&M players in the postgame interview room.“We have to keep fighting and know that this isn’t the end of our season,” said offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. “Our goals are still out in front of us,” coach Kevin Sumlin noted.As long as Manziel stays healthy, Sumlin is right. The Aggies showed that they still have an offensive line that can keep Johnny Football on his talented feet. And in 6-foot-5 receiver Mike Evans, they have one of college football’s most unstoppable weapons. Evans had seven catches for a dizzying 279 yards. Who does that against Alabama?When asked about the guy who threw all those passes, though, Sumlin assessed, “He played ‘Johnny-like’ — that’s the best way to put it. “He scrambled around and made some plays, but he also stayed in the pocket and remained efficient.”When Sumlin and the coaches look at the game tape, however, I’m guessing they will give Manziel a higher grade than simply “efficient.”Manziel threw the deep ball. He threw the short ball. He seemed to run economically rather than impulsively — 14 carries for 98 net yards.His two interceptions, though, were key. His second-quarter loft into the end zone for Ja’Quay Williams was plucked away by ’Bama’s Cyrus Jones, and a deflected third-quarter pass was intercepted by Vinnie Sunseri and returned 73 yards for a touchdown.Manziel whiffed on a chance to tackle Sunseri early in the return.Aha! Finally something Johnny Football can’t do.But there were enough other moments Saturday to remind us who has a Heisman Trophy. Like in the second quarter, when Manziel somehow managed to break free from the jersey-tugging grasp of Alabama’s Jeoffrey Pagan and, just as he was about to be steamrolled by C.J. Mosley, completed a backpedaling alley-oop pass to teammate Edward Pope.Some, no doubt, will argue that the Crimson Tide relaxed after staking itself to a three-touchdown lead. There’s some measure of truth in that. ’Bama has done that before.But seldom, if ever during the Saban regime, has the Tide seemed as incapable of stopping the defensive bleeding as the opposing quarterback stormed from behind down the stretch. Manziel had 201 yards passing in the fourth quarter alone.Who does that against Alabama?After the game, Manziel chose not to answer any questions about the autograph episode. But his perspectives on the 49-42 defeat were cogent and sincere.“To be honest, as much as people say it was such a big game, I probably came out less nervous today than I was for any other game,” he said. “What did we have to lose? The pressure wasn’t on us. The pressure was on Alabama.”Manziel was asked if all the talk of off-season distractions had affected him.“I worked this off-season to be a better passer and be better in the pocket, instead of freelancing as much,” he said. “You can go back and watch the games and have your assessment of it, but scoring that many points and doing what we did as a team, I don’t think the off-season had anything to do with that.”No, it surely looked as if it didn’t. He dodged. He dashed. He rolled up 562 yards all by himself. Who does that against Alabama?Johnny Football. Now I remember.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton