A memorable college football play, according to Twitter

I’m not exactly in Twitter’s target demographic, but I’m on there just the same. Call it an occupational hazard. By following a bunch of athletes and sports media types — plus William Shatner, of course — it becomes something of an instantaneous news feed for someone in my line of work.

But instantaneous is the right word. If you don’t have some device buzzing against your leg every time anybody says anything — and I don’t — it’s only good for the period you’re reading it.

So anyway. There was a play in the second quarter of the Alabama-Texas A&M game today that had the makings of an instant classic.

A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the only freshman in history to win the Heisman Trophy a year ago, took a snap on third-and-eight from the Alabama 34-yard line. He retreated to pass, then retreated some more from the five-man Alabama pass rush. Crimson Tide defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan broke free and came after him. Manziel retreated some more.

Pagan carried a fistful of Manziel’s jersey from about the A&M 45 to the 42, creating the possibility a referee would judge Manziel “in the grasp” and blow the play dead.

But no referee did, so Manziel did what he does, which is escape. He spun away from Pagan, then darted right, where the rest of the Crimson Tide pass rush was still coming. Retreating just behind his own 40-yard line, 26 yards behind the line of scrimmage, Manziel heaved the ball down the middle of the field. An instant later he was knocked to the ground by Alabama linebacker C. J. Mosley.

Meanwhile, back in Alabama territory, where the play began, a small convention of white and maroon jerseys gathered for the arrival of the ball, more of them white (Alabama defensive backs) than maroon (Manziel’s receivers). But Edward Pope, a 6-foot-4-inch freshman clad in maroon, elevated above the crowd and snatched the ball, falling on his back at the Alabama 22.

To summarize: A harrowing retreat and escape by Johnny Football (becoming known in the Twitterverse as JFF, much as Peyton Manning is known as PFM, the socially acceptable alternative for the middle initial being “freaking”) followed by a 38-yard pass fired as he ran for his life laterally, still retreating vertically, which turned into a 12-yard gain and one of the more amazing third-down conversions I’ve seen.

It was not significant in terms of the outcome. Manziel ended the drive by throwing an interception in the end zone. But the play will no doubt live on forever on YouTube and elsewhere as a tribute to Manziel, college football’s biggest star, and an echo of the famous Eli Manning escape and desperation heave in Super Bowl 42 that ended with David Tyree’s “helmet catch.”

The reaction on Twitter, of course, was instantaneous. My feed is presented here without comment and in chronological order from moments after the play. This portion came within about two minutes. There was awe, humor and, of course, the scolds:

Pat Forde (Yahoo Sports): Oh my Lord, JFF.

Jason McIntyre (The Big Lead): OH MY GOSH MANZIEL

Tavarres King (Broncos practice squad): Lucky lil duck

Dan Wolken (USA Today): WHAT THE

Mike Freeman (CBS Sports): OhmyGod. #OhMyGod #Twitterexplodes

Greg Bedard (Sports Illustrated): Holy Manning to Tyree flashbacks

Bonnie Bernstein (Campus Insiders): ARE YOU KIDDING ME with that scramble? #Manzielmagic

Rick Reilly (ESPN): That’s a signature play for Johnny Manziel.

Michael Smith (ESPN): Johnny Manziel > Eli Manning LOL

David Dahl (Rockies 2012 No. 1 draft pick): Two words: Johnny Football

Erin Andrews (Fox Sports): STOP IT #thirddown

Chris Harris (Broncos cornerback): WTH lol Johnny football lucky

Kevin Corke (CBS Sports): UNBELIEVABLE!!!!! #JohnnyFootball

Josina Anderson (ESPN): You can’t tell Manziel anything now.

Jordan Hamilton (Nuggets swingman): That boy Manziel unreal!

Doug Gottlieb (CBS Sports): Incredible play, horrible decision in reality . . . no?

Bomani Jones (ESPN): bet that was frustrating.

Chuck Culpepper (Sports on Earth): That play will run on all our various screens in perpetuity.

Frank Schwab (Yahoo Sports): Fun play, but what a horrible pass. Worked out. You’ll see that highlight a million times.

Pete Prisco (CBS Sports): That was a horrible throw Manziel got away with. Don’t praise that

Gregg Doyel (CBS Sports): Manziel is way too good to be lucky too! Great escape. Lucky pass. Fun.

Dave Hyde (South Florida Sun-Sentinel): Will that Manziel pass be replayed more than Clowney’s hit last year?

Within a minute or two, Twitter moved on. The game turned into a memorable 49-42 shootout. A&M lost, but Manziel & Co. put up more points on the Crimson Tide than it’s seen from an opponent under coach Nick Saban. If you missed the play, don’t worry. It will be playing on SportsCenter indefinitely.

About Dave Krieger

Dave Krieger is a recidivist newspaperman. View all posts by Dave Krieger

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