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Johnny Football Heisman Trophy Win May Cause New Malady for Game

Johnny Manziel
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of the Texas A&M Aggies looks to pass during their game against the Missouri Tigers at Kyle Field on November 24, 2012 in College Station, Texas. Photographer: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

A Heisman Trophy win for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel may cause an unprecedented malady among college football fans.

“You’re going to have Heisman fatigue for the first time in the history of the trophy as a potential issue,” Shane Hinckley, assistant vice president of business development at the College Station, Texas, university, said in a telephone interview.

Manziel is favored to become the first freshman to win the award presented annually to college football’s best player. The other finalists who’ll attend the ceremony tomorrow in New York are seniors: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein. Manziel, who is moving to trademark his nickname, Johnny Football, is the 1-15 favorite, according to online sportsbook Te’o is 4-1, while Klein is 25-1.

Te’o last night beat Manziel and Klein to win the Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s outstanding player. Te’o also won the Bednarik Award, given to the outstanding defensive player. Since the end of the regular season, Te’o has also won the Butkus Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award and Walter Camp national player of the year.

Should Manziel win, the university, its sponsors and broadcast networks such as Walt Disney Co.’s ABC and ESPN might have three more years to promote an already high-profile player from a school that this season moved into the Southeastern Conference, which has produced the national champion in each of the past six seasons. SEC member Alabama will play Notre Dame for this season’s national title.

Manziel, 20, rose to national prominence on Nov. 10, when the Aggies upset Alabama 29-24 in Tuscaloosa.

The closest a freshman has come to winning the Heisman was 2004, when University of Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson finished second to University of Southern California junior quarterback Matt Leinart. Peterson has said he’s pulling for Manziel who, after having to compete for the starting job in the preseason, wound up passing for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 1,181 yards and 19 scores.

Sold Out

Hinckley said Texas A&M, which regularly sells out 82,600-seat Kyle Field, isn’t seeking to make money off of Manziel’s notoriety.

“Normally, you get a Heisman winner as a junior and then he leaves,” Hinckley said, referring to the National Football League draft. “We want this to be about the brand, the A&M family and the team.”

Even so, Hinckley said the hype surrounding a Manziel Heisman win would probably spur donations from boosters and alumni, increase merchandise sales and burnish the university’s reputation, possibly leading to increased applications.

The university is working with Manziel to trademark the “Johnny Football” term. National Collegiate Athletic Association rules prevent the school, the player or his family from profiting from it while he’s a college athlete. Likewise, university sponsors, including AT&T and State Farm, are barred from using Manziel’s name or likeness in advertising.

Rights Holder

Monetizing Manziel falls on the shoulders of Greg Brown, chief executive officer of Plano, Texas-based Learfield Sports, the exclusive multimedia rights holder for Texas A&M athletics.

Brown, like Hinckley, said a Heisman fatigue might envelope Manziel.

“If he wins in his first year, by the time he’s a senior you’ll have heard about him probably more than any player in the history of college football at that level,” Brown said in a telephone interview.

That said, the buzz surrounding Manziel is good for the Aggies, who’ll probably use the fame to increase football recruiting and brand awareness in the southeastern U.S.

“The brand has as much traction as it has ever had in recent history,” said Brown, noting that Learfield has had similar experiences with Oklahoma and Peterson, Alabama and sophomore running back and Heisman winner Mark Ingram as well as North Carolina basketball and its litany of stars.

12th Man

Brown said sponsors and potential partners probably will seek an association with the university, where the football fans are known as 12th Man. The university holds a trademark on that.

“Companies want to connect with the following, the fan base,” he said. “It’s the centerpiece of the argument of pro versus college. The fan base for these programs is without regard to the athlete. It’s way deeper than one person.”

In 2001, the University of Oregon erected a 10-story billboard of quarterback Joey Harrington in New York’s Times Square, hyping him as a Heisman candidate and extending the school’s brand.

From here on out, A&M doesn’t need marketing gimmicks or attention-grabbing campaigns, Brown said.

“You don’t have to promote him; just play him,” he said. “I don’t think they have any treatments for Heisman fatigue.”

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