NA’s Manzo-Lewis part of new pro football league

When Anthony Manzo-Lewis was released by the San Diego Chargers after training camp ended last September, the North Arlington native was convinced that his career as a professional football player, albeit a short one, was over.

The former St. Joseph of Montvale and University of Albany fullback was signed as a free agent by the Chargers last year and invited to training camp. Manzo-Lewis thought he handled himself fairly well with the Chargers, but really didn’t get a legitimate chance to show what he could do as a pass catcher and blocking fullback.

“I knew I had to prove myself, but I didn’t get too much of an opportunity to do so,” Manzo-Lewis said. “I got right down to the final cuts, but they let me go.”

After Manzo-Lewis was released, he was told by a handful of teams to stay by the telephone for a future call.

“I had about four teams tell me to stay in shape,” Manzo-Lewis said. “The (Arizona) Cardinals, the (Atlanta) Falcons, the (Tampa Bay) Bucs (Buccaneers) all told me that they were interested in me.  They all said just stay in shape and they’ll give me a call. I said to myself, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”

So Manzo-Lewis returned to North Arlington and continued to train and condition the way a professional football player would train during the season.

But when it got to mid-October, reality started to creep into Manzo-Lewis’ head.

“I had to get a job,” Manzo-Lewis said bluntly.

So Manzo-Lewis took a job as an administration analyst for a technology company in Ramsey. He certainly didn’t give up on training, just in case the phone rang and a team was looking for a solid fullback and special teams player.

“I would go to the gym (at Montclair State) every day at 5 a.m., then go to work after,” Manzo-Lewis said.

By mid-November, Manzo-Lewis knew that no NFL team was going to sign any eligible free agents so late in the season.

But right around that same time frame, Manzo-Lewis heard about the new professional football league that was preparing to kickoff in February of 2019, a spanking new organization that was the brain trust of Charlie Ebersol, the son of NBC executive Dick Ebersol, and Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian, the man behind the ascent to greatness of both the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts.

The new league, called the Alliance of American Football (AAF), was designed to be a spring feeder league for the NFL, much like the G League is for the NBA. The new league would enable spring football to have a rebirth in America and would serve as a true feeder system, with players that were not under contract with NFL teams to get a chance to play and maybe get noticed by the NFL teams.

The AAF was formed with the assistance of the NFL, just at a much lower price tag. The players would all receive the same exact contracts (three year, $250,000), so there would be no need for salary caps and free agency and unbalanced pay scales.

Because Manzo-Lewis was last property of the San Diego Chargers, he was assigned by the AAF to the San Diego Fleet of the eight-team league. The San Diego Fleet team is coached by former St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz, the architect of the famed Rams’ offense dubbed “The Greatest Show on Turf.”

But Manzo-Lewis’ agent Tyrone Barnes, had to wait two days to find out what kind of deal he could negotiate for his client and what team he could play for.

It turned out that Manzo-Lewis’s rights were shipped to the Memphis Express, coached by NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary, the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Manzo-Lewis got an early Christmas present. On Dec. 23, he signed a three-year contract with the Express for the aforementioned $250,000.

“What I like is that we’re all getting the same money,” Manzo-Lewis said. “Everyone gets the same.”

Manzo-Lewis liked that he was playing for such a respected football man as Singletary, the leader of the famed Chicago Bears’ devastating defense when they won the Super Bowl under Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan in 1986.

“I liked the fact that he was the coach,” Manzo-Lewis said.

There were no guarantees involved. Manzo-Lewis had to earn a spot on the Express’s final 53-man roster.

That process all began with a month-long training camp in San Antonio with all eight teams together in unison.

“That was pretty cool,” Manzo-Lewis said. “Everywhere you went in San Antonio, there were people wearing Alliance stuff.”

Manzo-Lewis was excited to be part of the new league, especially since he had never even visited San Antonio before.

“I picked up a new playbook and only had a month or so to get ready,” Manzo-Lewis said. “It was a lot of fun, because everyone was learning the players and the plays together. We were all together, all eight teams. We had curfew every night at 11 (p.m.). We had practice during the day and meetings at night.”

But after four weeks of the routine in the Alamo Dome, Manzo-Lewis had an idea he was going to make the Express final roster.

“I made a 30-yard catch in one of the scrimmage games,” said Manzo-Lewis, who hauled in the pass from the Express’ starting signal caller, former New York Jets’ second round pick Christian Hackenberg. “I had a pretty good feeling that I was going to make the team. I think it helped a lot that I could play special teams as well.”

Manzo-Lewis said that he has developed a good relationship with David Lee, the Express offensive coordinator who was the QB coach of the Dallas Cowboys with current CBS analyst Tony Romo.

“I think the goal is to develop the young guys,” said Manzo-Lewis, who just turned 23 years old.

Finally, the Express kicked off the AAF last weekend against the Birmingham Iron and dropped a 26-0 decision. It was the first of 10 games this season for Manzo-Lewis and the Express.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Manzo-Lewis said. “It’s a dream come true. I’m doing what I love to do and I’m getting paid for it. It’s absolutely amazing. You have no idea how excited I am. I didn’t care where I was playing or what position. I’m just happy to be a part of this new league. It’s definitely a great opportunity for me.”

Manzo-Lewis liked the caveat that was attached to each AAF contract.

“I can sign an NFL contract at any time,” Manzo-Lewis said. “I’m getting a chance to play now at the highest level with everyone watching.”

With the NFL season over, the AAF is literally the only football game in town. Well, at least in Memphis it is.

And yes, Anthony Manzo-Lewis is the first-ever professional football player to ever hail from North Arlington.

“I like the way that sounds,” Manzo-Lewis said.

It’s a distinction that will never go away.




Anthony Manzo-Lewis, shown here playing last year for the University of Albany, became the first-ever professional football player from North Arlington when he made his debut Sunday for the Memphis Express of the new Alliance of American Football. Photo courtesy of the University of Albany sports information department.




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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”