January 12, 2016

Football Star News of Robert Griffin III

ur story doesn’t begin when the Redskins traded away a chunkof its future for the right to draft Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III out of Baylor.It doesn’t being when Griffin charmed the Washington media with his witty, joke-filled press conferences in his first training camp and had Redskins fans buying up his No. 10 jersey in droves before he ever set foot on the field. We don’t start in Week 1 of 2012 either, the day RG3, as he was then known, had a save-tomorrow’s-newspaper, 40-point performance against the New Orleans Saints, one that created an instant legend, just like Stephen Strasburg’s 14-strikeout Strasmas had in D.C. two years before.

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And the beginning wasn’t even the second beginning, when, after a 2-6 follow-up to the Saints "miracle,” Griffin led Washington to seven straight wins, earning him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, an NFC East title won witha season sweep of the Cowboys that included a Thanksgiving day barnburner and a Week 17 de facto championship onSunday Night Football,culminating ina playoff meeting with Seattle, which began with two easy scoring drives that put the Redskins up 14-0 and had the city’s football fans feeling its first bit of ecstasy since the Joe Gibbs Super Bowl era. It was one of the greatest rookie season, if notthegreatest rookie season in quarterbacking history. Griffin wasn’t just great, he was sublime — a vision in burgundy and gold.At that moment, anything and everything was possible. Robert Griffin III was the football hero Washington had craved for decades. Then, in an instant, it was over. And that’s where our story begins.

Griffin was playing hurt that wild-card night, stemming from any injury suffered the month before when his knee looked like it was going to fly off its joints after a collision with Haloti Ngata.

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He didn’t score the big touchdown in that game or play the week after, but when he came back helooked healthy, right up until the second quarter of the playoffgame when it was clear to everyone watchingthat Griffin was compromised. For whatever reason, Mike Shanahan, who had a better vantage point than everyone, left him in the game well into the fourth quarter when Griffin’s knee finally could take no more and he suffered another gruesome injury on top of the gruesome injury with which he was playing. Griffin would never start a game for a winning Washington team again. His record in starts would be 5-15.

Shanahan, who has 1,001 excuses for how he handled Griffin in that game and beyond, never wanted the QB from the outset but, depending on whose version of the story you believe, was forced into playing him and tailoring his offense at the behest of Griffin himself, backed up by his pal, owner Dan Snyder.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The playoff ACL tear led to another surgery for Griffin that was supposed to keep him out for nine months. But buoyed by optimism in Washington, overconfidence in himself, a marketing campaign built around his comeback anda front office withthe reverse Midas touch (everything it touches turns to crap), Griffin, who most figured would be out until early October, at best, decided he’d be "all in for Week 1.” Forget that Griffin was just22 years old. He was an athlete and athletes want to compete and will do so unless they’re told they cannot, something we see every week with the new concussion protocol. The players care a lot less about their health than the doctors. In this situation, no one seemed to care about RG3’s health. No one ever seemed to thinkthat rushing a guy back from his second ACL surgery, then having him miss all offseasonactivities includingthe four preseason games, was a questionable decision. It was simply all in for Week 1. And it ruined his career with the Redskins.

The read option, as we’ve seen since its one-year heyday of 2012, wasn’t tenable for long, especially with a quarterback who never quite figured out how to slide. Once 2013 hit and the excitement from ’12 had settled, Griffin seemed to resent Shanahan for trying to turn him into a pocket passer while Shanahan seemed to resent the fact thathe was playinga QBhe didn’t want and it was destroying his third stint in the NFL, thus threatening to radically alter Shanahan’s legacy. There was no adult in the front office to ease the friction and end the discord. By the end of a terrible season in which Griffin got hurt again, Shanahan was leaking stories to the media about falling on his sword to stay with the team, nonsense that was merely getting out in front of his inevitable firing. Nothing was Mike Shanahan’s fault, said Mike Shanahan.

(USA TODAY Sports Images)

(USA TODAY Sports Images)

It was all his fault. For as stubborn as Griffin was in his dislike of being a pocket passer, hishead coach didn’t stand up to Snyder, appeared to be playing a game of chicken with his young quarterback ("you don’t want to play in my system — let’s see what happens”) and refused to compromise in the slightest. Griffin didn’t help, but a coach has to build with what he has, not with what he wants. Shanahan surely believes he sabotaged 2013 to get out from the madness of the Dan Snyder reign, but he needn’t have tried. Shanahan’s bestefforts were sabotage enough.

Jay Gruden was hired to replace Shanahan and entered with the same issue: He made his way in the NFL turning Andy Dalton into a viable quarterback, playing out of a pocket passing system. Now, he was hired to fit a square peg into a round hole and everyone acted as if this wasn’t going to a problem even though it was clearly headed toward disaster. But that’s why a guy like Gruden gets hired — when you’re not in demand, you don’t get a vote (at least not in year one). Gruden wanted Kirk Cousins all along, started Griffin out of obligation and then got his wish to play Cousins after yet another RG3 injury/benching.

(USA TODAY Sports Images)

(USA TODAY Sports Images)

Griffin should have been used to the undermining by then. Hewas a member of the Washington Redskins for onlya few hours before the ‘Skins took the Michigan State quarterback 100 picks after RG3, a decision that looks prescient now but at the time was a clear signal that not everybody was on board with trading up for Griffin. Whatever mental impact this had on Griffin is irrelevant. He was now a professional. If he was to be a success, it didn’t matter who was behind him on the depth chart.

What it did, however, was set up the pattern of confusion, disarray and disrespect that would define Griffin’s tenure, from that cold wild-card night against Seattle untilthat day last August in which Jay Gruden finally put to rest whatever quarterback controversy remained in Washington. Cousins was the starter, Griffin was the backup to the backup and, for the first timein two seasons, there was no QB turmoil in a place in which such things thrive. Sure, Dan Snyder had to keep Griffin on the roster with risk of great periljust as anego move, but becauseGriffin behaved with such dignity and class when he should have been elsewhere and possibly playing, it was a non-issue.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The end has been so long in coming that Monday’s exitwasmore formality than goodbye. But if you go back to those halcyon days of 2012, this ending, which became inevitable,wasn’t just improbable, it was impossible. Griffin was an NFL star in an NFL town that had been devoid of stars in any sport for decades. And then came Alex Ovechkin and his goal-scoring, playoff-failing ways. Next was Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, one of whom struck out 14 batters in his first appearance, another whose stats drew comparisons to Mickey Mantle. John Wall isn’t quite the star Wizards fans hoped he be, but he’s turned around a franchise from a perennial lottery team into a perennial playoff team, no small task. And then there was Griffin, the first real quarterback in a football-crazed town since Sonny Jurgensen in the 60s and 70s. In the end though, Griffin was a false idol who lasted 16.5 games.

The scene at Redskins Park on Monday was bizarre and sad on a professional and human level. There was Robert Griffin III, the one-time Washington savior, alone, packing his things into a box and respectfully declining to talk to the press as he walked away into the NFL unknown, a 25-year-old with the worries, questions and baggage of a much older man.Left in his wake were memories of one season of NFL greatness, the kind fans will still be talking about years later, three years of NFL regret and one of the more bizarre tenures in the history of the NFL — a young man who turned from savior to scourge in the course of a few moments of a playoff game he was only playing in because of his heroicsduring a magical two-month stretch of 2012.


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