Houston (CBS HOUSTON) – With the NFL draft not taking place until May, the debate for who the Houston Texans will take with the number one overall selection is starting to reach a point where the arguments are getting stale and tired. We’ve had too much time to talk and hear the arguments. We’ve heard them all.

We know Johnny Manziel isn’t the prototype quarterback, but we also know he has a lot of intangibles and raw athletic ability. We know that Teddy Bridgewater can’t throw without a glove, and leaves a little left to be desired in the intelligence department based on his reported Wonderlich score. We know that Blake Bortles could be either Drew Bledsoe or Ryan Leaf and is built like the prototype QB, however he doesn’t have the body of work of the others.

Bottom line, as media members and as fans we know what we know already and we aren’t going to learn much more. Bill O’Brien and Rick Smith have a tough task ahead of them as they have an opportunity to accelerate the re-build with a solid draft, especially with the first overall pick.

However, I am going to make the case that Johnny Manziel is the player the Texans should take and it’s one you probably haven’t heard. I want to preface that I think they should take him for a number of reasons, including the fact that I believe he will have the best career of all the quarterbacks available. However, you’ve already read a thousand blogs about why the Texans should draft (insert player here). I will do the same, it just won’t be a “football argument”.

My case for Johnny Manziel is not one where I will argue about his leadership ability, despite it being significant. My argument for drafting Johnny Manziel is not where I argue about his undying drive to be the best, although that is a good one too. My argument for drafting Johnny Manziel has nothing to do with putting butts in seats, selling advertising, endorsement deals, Texans games in prime time, wins and losses, passing records, or even his training regimen; although those are all more important than anyone realizes.

There is one argument that no one is making and here it is. Drafting Johnny Manziel is an opportunity for the Texans to achieve statewide relevance and begin to step out of the shadow of “America’s Team”.

There has never, in the history of the Dallas franchise been a time more prime to gain ground in the statewide fan base than there is right now . In other words, the Cowboys fan base has never been more vulnerable than it is right now for the Texans to gain ground.

Let’s look at some facts. The Cowboys were never more popular than they were in the early 90’s, the Oilers were never less popular in that same time frame with a move to Tennessee finalized in 1996. With the Triplets of Aikman, Smith, and Irvin the Cowboys earned three Super Bowl titles in four years and while the “Amercia’s Team” moniker was debatable, there was no question they were Texas’ team. The people of Houston wrote off Oilers owner Bud Adams, didn’t build him a stadium and stopped attending games at the Astrodome. The Texans weren’t even supposed to exist as the 32nd franchise was initially given to Los Angeles in March of 1999. If LA had its act together there is a good chance you would all be Cowboys fans and Bob McNair would be trying to buy the Chargers right now.

Furthermore, from 1996 until the Texan’s inaugural season in 2002, the Cowboys were Texas’ ONLY team. Not only did the Cowboys put a strangle hold on North Texas, because of training camps in San Antonio  and Wichita Falls, plus marketing trips to the Rio Grande Valley, Corpus Christi and elsewhere, the Cowboys solidified their fan base at every corner of the state.

Courtesy: Facebook Data Science

Courtesy: Facebook Data Science

Facebook data gives us this map of NFL fan bases. See that tiny bit of red where Houston should be? Yeah that’s the Texans fan base. All the blue around it? Cowboys. While the data is based on NFL teams with the most “likes” in every small region; it is glaring to see who the favorite is statewide and beyond.  Now before you jump at me about the data and where it comes from, look at this information.

The Texans radio network has 34 affiliates in the State of Texas, according to their website. They have none outside Texas. The Cowboys have 45 affiliates in Texas, five in Oklahoma, four in New Mexico, three in Arkansas and one in Louisiana. Oh, they also have a NATIONAL radio deal that broadcasts Cowboys games in 29 states.

The Texans have done a nice job of extending their broadcast footprint. There are several markets on the list that just recently added the Texas as a result of their recent playoff success. Bottom line is the Cowboys are and always have been the most popular team in Texas.

What will a Johnny Manziel selection mean to that fact? Simple, there has never been a more relevant in-state player since Vince Young coming out of a Texas school, and I would argue no player with the amount of universal in-state popularity than that of Manziel. Manziel is by far the most polarizing athlete to come out of Texas and perhaps, in the history of college football not named Tim Tebow.

Before Manziel’s arrival the Aggies were irrelevant, a move to the SEC was seen as a mistake as it was believed, if the Aggies couldn’t compete in the Big 12, how could they compete in the SEC? Then, Johnny Football happened. He became a TV star that generated ratings and donor dollars for an athletic program that was long in the shadow of big brother UT. While there are other factors that are moving the needle towards Texas A&M as the desired school for Texas high school students; it is undeniable that the star power of Johnny Manziel made College Station a cool place to be. Ask anyone who attended A&M in the last decade BJF (Before Johnny Football) if College Station was a cool place to be.

Say what you want about Earl Campbell or Vince Young, neither was as big of a “star” statewide or nationwide as Manziel is. Maybe social media is the cause for that popularity, and I’m not ready to anoint him as an NFL success before he ever takes a snap; but drafting Manziel makes the Texans the most relevant franchise in the state for the first time in their history, and arguably for the first time in Houston pro football history.

There hasn’t been a moment in the history of the Cowboys franchise where they have been vulnerable to their stepbrother in Houston. The Cowboys haven’t won a Super Bowl in nearly two decades and the fanbase has a vocal disdain for their owner and their quarterback. The Cowboys have a shining jewel of a stadium where the most memorable moments in it are in the sport of basketball and not football. Well I take that back, the shining football moment belongs to Johnny Football in the 2013 Cotton Bowl.

They won’t be dethroned entirely, but in an era where sports fans are in the “What have you done for me lately,” mentality, there is an opportunity to make some of the ground lost in statewide credibility.

With Manziel, the Texans would automatically be more relevant among football fans in Texas than the Cowboys for the 2014 season. Obviously, he must win for this to be sustained, but if the Texans make him the number one draft selection they will approach the maximum number of national TV games despite the fact they were 2-14 last year. Don’t forget the Texans make a trip into AT&T Stadium this year, and the franchise’s first win notwithstanding, a Johnny Football win in Cowboys Stadium will make a serious dent in the mystique of the Cowboys in Texas.

I know what you’re thinking, you don’t want bandwagon fans and there’s no way they will convert anyone. Here’s the thing, the Texans won’t convert old fans, but drafting Manziel will give the Texans a chance at getting kids, teens, college students (who don’t go to UT), females, and casual football fans. If Manziel has any success they will start getting the fans that ready to turn in their blue and silver attire for Steel Blue and Battle Red.

Houston always seems to be in the shadow of the other sports markets in the state or worse . Texans fans hate the Cowboys, the Cowboys fans don’t think about the Texans. Rice and UH aren’t relevant compared to UT and A&M. Don’t get me started on the Spurs/Mavs and the Rockets. Have you seen what has happened to the Rangers growth after the decade of mediocrity by the Astros?

Just as Roger Clemens was a shot in the arm for the Astros notoriety in 2004, Johnny Football can do the same for the Texans as a rookie in 2014.

The Texans as an organization and as a brand need Johnny Football under center. If it happens ,the Battle Red splotch on the map will bleed across Texas faster than you can imagine.

Follow Alex Del Barrio on Twitter: @ADBSportsguy



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