Manziel Family: Modern Day Robber Barons?

By Amber Lee
He probably lost that football betting on cockfights.
He probably lost that football betting on cockfights.

On Monday Timothy Burke of Deadspin published “The Long Con: How The Manziels Conquered America,” which offered a fascinating look into the colorful cockfighting family of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Like most of Deadspin’s great investigative masterpieces of recent years, the initial fuse seemed to be lit by the journalistic ineptitude of our sports overlords over at ESPN. A recent feature in ESPN: The Magazine portrayed the Manziel family as a more mysterious version of the famed Rockefeller family. Apparently no facts went checked and no vague platitude went unprinted!

Manziel’s father Paul explained that the family fortune was definitely worth less than that of country superstar Garth Brooks, but certainly worth more than no fortune at all. You do the math. 

Oh! And if you can work out the equation that explains why this wealthy oil heir has been so ridiculously eager to sign his name to anything a sleazy autograph hustler has put in front of him for a measly few grand…well send that over to ESPN.

However, given the company motto, they may not be all that interested.

If you have a few minutes to read through Burke’s entire piece, I would highly recommend doing so. If you’re in a hurry or possess a shockingly short attention span due to as yet unknown environment factors, here are the highlights:

In 1907 Johnny Football’s great-great grandfather Joseph Manziel immigrated to the U.S. from Syria with his wife Mary and their young son, Esahiah. They settled down in Louisiana, where Esahiah quickly became known as “Bobby Joe,” proving the family has superhuman powers of assimilation.

It took less than two decades for the family to make their mark in their new homeland. Basically Joseph purchased a deed that was literally stolen from a snake oil salesman and the Louisiana Supreme Court basically ruled that he and his cohorts were a bunch of dirty crooks.

Defrauding a man whose profession is synonymous with fraud? Impressive.

An old portrait of the Manziel family in their heyday.
An old portrait of the Manziel family in their heyday.

Later Bobby Joe ventured into the pristine world of boxing promotion. His foray into the prestigious profession was brief—in 1927 he was busted for fixing matches and lost his Louisiana promoter’s license. That’s quite a tight ship they’re running down there.

As for the quiet dignity of the Manziel oil fortune? Well, apparently Bobby Joe first struck black gold on the property of the Negro New Hope Baptist Church. He didn’t own the land or anything, but he convinced all the parishioners to sign a release by chasing them around town in his barely airborne jalopy and scaring the crap out of them.

That scam emboldened Bobby Joe, who started wandering around Texas and digging for oil whenever and wherever he felt a good vibe from an unsupervised patch of remote land. Let’s just say that the operation wasn’t exactly on the level, but a corrupt judge here and stupid state’s rights argument there…and boom! Oil tycoons.

This is an artistic rendering of every male in Texas.
This is an artistic rendering of every white male in Texas.

Don’t mess with Texas because some of its most prominent residents made their fortune drilling for oil in children’s playgrounds. What about the children, you ask? Well…I heard they were sacrificed in the name of Yosemite Sam to the oil gods.

And obviously it worked—just ask Jerry Jones.

The oil business was lucrative for the Manziels. Their countless shoddily constructed wells were either unstoppable moneymaking machines or manmade volcanoes—but instead of lava they spouted up “geyser[s] of fiery crude oil that could be seen, and felt, for miles.”

Is there anything more American than an outlaw oil well exploding in Texas?

A picture of Bobby Joe and his loving wife on their wedding day.
A picture of Bobby Joe and his loving wife on their wedding day.

Maybe a Bald Eagle wearing an American flag as a cape while tearing down the Berlin Wall with its talons while Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The U.S.A.” booms in the background.

Bobby Joe died in October 1956, which was just months before the “Oil Palace,” the architectural marvel he dreamed up to rival New York’s Madison Square Garden, was supposedly set to open its doors. His structural oil opus substituted enthusiasm for blueprints and swapped out 20,000 seats for about 7,000 [give or take].

Believe it or not, the construction on his hastily thrown together vanity project was slightly beyond schedule…but it finally opened in 1983.

Now before you go thinking that 27 years sounds like an unreasonable timetable, consider this! It took the ancient Egyptians approximately 30 years to create a single pyramid. And those stupid things only housed a couple of dead bodies and their earthy riches.

The famed Oil Palace can house nearly 7,000 dead bodies and its stage has hosted some of the most prestigious [living] entertainers in the world today.

Acts like Sesame Street Live, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, the Casting Crowns [not the Counting Crows], Ricky Skaggs [not Boz Scaggs], crazy person Glenn Beck and, of course, the famed Jordan International Circus!

What they lack in animals, they make up for in dirty drunk clowns.
What they lack in animals, they make up for in dirty drunk clowns.

Everything’s bigger in Texas…so the Jordan International Circus is probably just a bigger, awesomer version of that grubby upstart Barnum and Bailey. Right?

Just because Bobby Joe made his fortune as an outlaw oilman working well outside the confines of the law doesn’t mean this seemingly straight-laced rigger of boxing matches didn’t have his financially beneficial vices.

By day he may have been a more criminally adept and cartoonishly villainous version of the fictional J.R. Ewing, but by night he was one of the greatest champions of cockfighting this great nation has ever seen.

God. Bless. America.

Johnny’s grandfather “Big Paul” Manziel was born in October 1942, presumably the son of a wisecracking grifter and a prostitute collected by the family as part of a gambling debt nine months prior. That hasn’t been officially confirmed, but it could actually explain why their criminal enterprises have decreased exponentially in sophistication with each passing generation.

This is what happens when you don't stop and ask for directions.
This is what happens when you don’t stop and ask for directions.

Bobby Joe was a street smart conman who could’ve drilled for oil on the lawn outside the White House and probably gotten away with it. Big Paul was a low-level hustler with a drinking problem who enjoyed street racing teenagers. Imagine how watered down the gene pool had become by the birth of John Paul Manziel, Johnny’s dad, in 1966.

According to Deadspin’s epically exhaustive research, Paul has only run afoul with the law once in his life [to date]. Aside from a single incident of criminal mischief back in 2002, he’s led a pretty mundane existence. Paul married his high school sweetheart after divorcing his…uh…high school something else following just one year and has been the general manager of a Texas Honda dealership.

Now young Johnny is making his way in the world by selling his signature to the highest bidder. It’s amazing how far a family that was built on the criminal ingenuity and skirting of federal regulations that has made this country great has devolved in such a short period of time.

And isn’t that the real issue here? The death of the American dream as illustrated through the loathsome fratboy antics of an entitled college quarterback who expects nothing but smooth sailing in life thanks to the road plowed by the criminal enterprises of his forefathers.

This is happening.
This is happening.

Well…that’s not not my America and I hope it’s not yours either.