What Johnny Manziel meant to Texas A&M

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- No matter where you look at Texas A&M, the Johnny Football effect is ever present.

When you walk into the new lobby -- the Tommie E. Lohman '59 Center -- at the front of the Bright Football Complex, one of the first things you'll find are the two Heisman Trophies won by Aggies: John David Crow's and Johnny Manziel's.

Walk around town and it isn't long before you find a maroon T-shirt or jersey with a No. 2, the number Manziel donned the past two seasons.

Turn on the television, scan the radio or scour the Web and Manziel is likely to turn up there, too, if you're following sports. Or even if you're not. In the offseason, it seems just as likely Manziel winds up the subject of a story on TMZ as on ESPN.

The imprint that Manziel -- who Wednesday officially announced he's entering the 2014 NFL draft -- left on college football and Texas A&M is undeniable. And evidence of it is everywhere.

Perhaps most important for Texas A&M and its football program, Manziel helped accelerate the success timetable for the Aggies in the SEC. Going into the 2012 season, it was difficult to find someone outside of Aggieland who would have predicted that Texas A&M would find quick success in college football's premier conference. Head coach Kevin Sumlin put it thusly in November 2012:

"We have some people that were out there that were sitting on the fence in a wait-and-see mode with some other programs saying, 'Hey, they're not going to win in the SEC. As a matter of fact, they're going to get their brains kicked in,'" Sumlin said days after the Aggies took down Alabama in 2012. "So I think for all intents and purposes, we've answered that question. We can handle it in this league."

They have. In two seasons of SEC membership, the Aggies are 20-6. Manziel's play is a big reason for that.

While the Aggies' 11-2 inaugural campaign in the SEC was a team effort, there's no doubting that Manziel's once-in-a-generation season was the straw that stirred the drink. He was the catalyst in getting the landmark victory against Alabama and was the player for whom most teams didn't have an answer. And as a result, he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

Even though the Aggies didn't wind up in a BCS bowl last season, having Manziel center stage at the award ceremony for college football's most prestigious individual honor was significant. A study that the school commissioned from Joyce Julius and Associates indicated that Manziel's winning the Heisman resulted in more than 1.8 million "media impressions," which led to $37 million in media exposure for Texas A&M.

That publicity reached a fever pitch this season and displayed what Manziel truly meant to the Aggies: television exposure. More than anything, Manziel was a TV star. And when he played, people tuned in.

The Aggies' Sept. 14 game against Alabama produced the second-highest TV rating of the season, an 8.5 rating that equals an average of 13.59 million viewers, according to the website SportsMediaWatch.com. The only regular-season game that outrated Aggies-Crimson Tide was the SEC championship game between Missouri and Auburn (8.6, 14.35 million viewers).

Texas A&M had three games rank in the top 15 ratings of the 2013 regular season, with LSU-Texas A&M and Auburn-Texas A&M coming in with 7.51 million viewers and 6.73 million viewers, respectively. Four times this season, the Aggies had the highest-rated game on television for that particular week.

Their 52-48 win over Duke in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl drew an average of 8.69 million viewers, which made it the most-viewed non-BCS bowl game in ESPN history.

And there's no denying the success of the football program helped fundraising efforts for the Aggies. In September, Texas A&M announced a record $740 million in fundraising for the previous year, which is more than $300 million better than any other 12-month period in school history. That time frame happened to include the Aggies' 11-2 season in 2012. As they say, athletics is the front porch of a university and often -- especially in Texas -- the football program is the face of college athletics.

Even on the night of the VIZIO BCS National Championship on Monday, Manziel was visible. He served as a guest analyst on the "College GameDay" set and was part of ESPN's BCS Megacast coverage of the game. Before the game, he drew headlines from celebrity gossip website TMZ, which followed his off-the-field activities leading up to the championship tilt while Manziel was in California.

In September, Texas A&M senior associate athletic director for external affairs Jason Cook told a local radio station that during an NCAA investigation into whether Manziel profited from signing autographs, Cook received as many calls from TMZ as he did from traditional sports media outlets.

Whether it was positive or negative, it seemed everyone wanted to watch, read about and know more about Manziel. And that, as a result, shined a light on Texas A&M football. With his celebrity status off the field, his highlight-worthy exploits on it and the countless headlines and cameras that followed, Manziel turned Texas A&M into an "it" program.

"With him putting himself along with the school on the national spotlight, everybody knows who the Heisman Trophy winner is," Texas A&M senior running back Ben Malena said earlier this season. "Everybody knows what school he goes to. ... Everybody wants to see him play. When you see Johnny Manziel play, you see Texas A&M play."

Cook made it clear that the Aggies' branding efforts are not focused solely on Manziel, but on the bigger picture.

"We talked about, from a brand strategy standpoint, about balance," Cook said earlier this season. "Because the Texas A&M brand is bigger than Johnny Manziel, it's bigger than Kevin Sumlin, it's definitely bigger than me, but we had to have balance. In a 130-year time span, Johnny Manziel is going to be a moment in time in this brand. He's playing a very important part of our brand, but he's not our entire brand at this point. We get excited, we're the biggest Johnny Manziel fans that there are, but we also have to realize that there has to be some balance."

Despite his short stay, his impact is profound. The numbers Manziel put up on the field in two seasons -- 7,820 passing yards, 2,169 rushing yards, 93 touchdowns -- and the honors he collected are easily documented and will be forever etched in stone. But the impact Manziel had on Texas A&M during his stay is immeasurable and will likely be felt for years to come in Aggieland.