COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- One of the oldest bromides in sports, if not life, is that it's not how you start, it's how you finish, which made it difficult to pass judgment on Johnny Manziel's performance in Texas A&M's 52-31 romp over Rice at Kyle Field.
Johnny Football didn't start, and he didn't finish.
This is not a plan for winning another Heisman, and it's not good for a seventh-ranked team's national title aspirations, either.
Of course, that's only the way A&M coaches and officials look at it.
Johnny Football, his teammates and fans appear to have a much different view.
Manziel sat out the first half as part of the NCAA's attempt to save face with the silliest penalty since he last stood in a corner. When he finally got into the game in the second half, he was all over the place.
Or as Manziel's coach, Kevin Sumlin, summed up his quarterback's half-day of work:
"Missed a read, couple touchdown drives, couple scrambles, and a foolish penalty at the end."
On one hand, it might seem telling that Sumlin broached the subject of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Manziel before he was even asked. He'd already made his feelings public, at that.
As Manziel came off the field after getting into a little trash talk with Rice's Malcolm Hill of Frisco Liberty, earning a flag for his efforts, ESPN's sideline reporter, Mark Schwarz, heard Sumlin tell Manziel, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
Considering how Sumlin ranked the comment, then, I'm sorry to report we never found out exactly what Manziel said. Sumlin wasn't saying, Manziel wasn't talking, and Hill wasn't available.
Whether Sumlin's anger was directed at what Manziel said, or the fact that he said it in the face of an official, I couldn't say. But he wasn't happy.
And that was before Sumlin found out after the game that Manziel, reacting to another Rice player earlier, appeared to mime signing an autograph.
Sumlin didn't see the irony.
"No matter what the comments are, he's going to face that every week, with people chirpin'," he said. "That's not OK. I obviously addressed that on the sideline immediately after the play.
"That's something he's going to have to deal with every week."
If an opponent thinks he can provoke a reaction from Manziel that might draw a penalty, he'll say things that would make Miley Cyrus blush.
Sumlin might have been a little perturbed, too, by the number of players he had available for Rice. A&M announced before the game that four more players were suspended for the first two games. Losing so many players before, during, and after the opener because a team in the conversation about a national title can't stay focused on the task at hand bothers Sumlin. What makes it worse is when one of those players is his best one. It sends a message. So Sumlin sent one, too.
Manziel didn't go back into the game after the penalty. Sumlin could have simply said it was hot, late and time to give Matt Joeckel a few more snaps after a fine first half.
But when asked if he planned on taking Manziel out of the game before the penalty, Sumlin paused.
"Nope," he said, finally.
Sumlin might not have been so inclined to send a message if he didn't have a big lead, or the team on the other sideline had been Alabama. But he said all the right things Saturday. He talked about how selfish acts by individuals hurt a team. He talked about how his young team needs to mature. He talked about how it was the job of the coaches to make that happen.
He said Manziel told his teammates all of the above in his apology Friday.
But did they get the message?
Not judging by what happened Saturday, during the game or after.
Asked if he thought Manziel's personality on the field was an issue, Ben Malena said, "He's not quiet. He's not shy. He's gonna be aggressive, loud. That's what makes him Johnny Football. We love it."
Toney Hurd -- who said he thought Manziel had "nice swag" Saturday -- was blunt.
"We got the W," he said. "That's what really matters in the end."
It may take some time before Sumlin's message sinks in, at that.