Clearly, the kid only has one speed and it’s no longer fun to watch. Without an offensive line to protect him, a defense that defends and a play-caller who is sane enough to know you run when you have a lead, Robert Griffin III is taking the entire team on his shoulders and taking a physical beating. It’s not his re-built knee that’s in danger – it’s his brain and his very life.
We now know those impressive hits we see in the NFL cause permanent harm. Former Cowboys running back, Tony Dorsett, is but the latest in a long line of players who have suffered permanent brain injury from the thousands of hits they‘ve absorbed through their college and NFL careers. Every time RGIII incurs a brutal blow, as he did at least a dozen times in the most recent Redskins’ debacle against the Minnesota Vikings, his brain is literally crashing against his skull and creating the scar tissue that eventually causes memory loss, suicidal thoughts and severe depression.
Someday, when he’s no longer a kid and turns, say 50, will he be able to walk? Will he remember to take his kids to school? Will he shoot himself in the chest like Junior Seau did, in order to preserve his brain for clinical study?
I know this sounds sick and extreme. But it is the reality for NFL players. It’s why watching this sport is getting to be increasingly uncomfortable. It’s why I feel very little joy and actually a great deal of sadness when I see this poor kid playing his heart out for a team that cannot protect him and a coaching staff and owner that could care less if they literally break him again and again, only to leave him to recover enough in the off-season to take next year’s beatings.
As you look back at it and understand the frighteningly consistent dysfunction of Daniel Snyder’s Washington Redskins for well over a decade, it makes you wish someone had told this intelligent, charming and supremely talented young man to RUN- far, far away from Landover and the clutches of the Snyders and the Shanahans. They’re not only using you, RG- they may very well be killing you.
The Washington Redskins did the right thing when they sat RGIII against Cleveland, the week after the Baltimore game in which he injured his right knee. They did the right thing in the weeks that followed by altering their offensive game plan to fit RGIII’s new and temporary limitations. Now Coach Mike Shanahan is getting buried in criticism for not having pulled the kid in Sunday’s playoff loss to Seattle despite being obviously injured. I think some understanding of both men is in order.
What if the kid had been able to rally the Skins to a game-tying touchdown? Would the critics still be piling on Shanahan? Doubtful- which says to me a lot of this outrage is less about RGIII and more about a decision that may have cost the Redskins the game. And the outrage comes chock-full of hindsight. Who knew a bad snap from center would cause Griffin to awkwardly hyperextend the knee again on the god-forsaken mud hole that passes for turf at FedEx Field?
From a competitive standpoint, I think most will agree RGIII should have been pulled in the 2nd half after a 9-yard run out of bounds in which he basically dragged his right leg along like it was hanging by a thread. That looked alarming. But Shanahan is nothing if not loyal. The most compelling argument RGIII made at half-time to convince the coach he should keep playing was his insistence that he had earned the right to stay in there and give it his best shot. To me that’s indisputable. The kid, through most of 15 games did everything humanly possible to earn the right to stay in there.
But was it misplaced loyalty? Does the Head Coach have an obligation to overrule a competitive player who will always say he’s healthy enough to play whether he is or not? Yes and Shanahan admits it. He says he trusted his gut on this but that his gut isn’t always right and that he would, indeed, second-guess himself over the decision.
Even RGIII admits he endangered himself when he continued playing after having tweaked the knee just before his 2nd TD pass in the 1st quarter. But this was the playoffs. You think RGIII was the only player out there playing hurt? When Kirk Gibson came in to pinch-hit for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the bottom of the 9th inning of a World Series game when Gibson could barely stand, much less walk, did people think that was abusing the athlete? Of course not. Because he hit a homerun that won the game.
It turns out RGIII is not indestructible but is, in fact, all too human. Both in his stubbornness and his physical health. Mike Shanahan is human too. I would argue, if anything, he put his loyalty to his QB above the strategic dynamics needed to win that game. And in retrospect- yes- he made the wrong decision. But I don’t think he deserves to be vilified or fired for it.
Everyone will learn from this and especially RGIII and Mike Shanahan, There is a point where steely determination and sheer grit begin to provide diminishing returns. RGIII will learn to be a little less reckless. Coach Shanahan now knows there will be times where he’ll have to stop RG from being his own worst enemy.
What I can’t stop thinking about, is the cruelty of fate and the vulnerability of even the most talented and ferocious of athletes. I will never forget the Skins game against the Minnesota Vikings this year when Griffin scored on a 78 yard touchdown run. His Olympic-class speed was breathtaking to behold. It was the longest scoring run by an NFL quarterback in 16 years. Griffin piled up 138 yards rushing that day.
And then I picture the botched snap from center on Sunday when the same gifted athlete could not bend down and pick up a dropped football without collapsing in a heap on the muddy turf.
Because of his work ethic and desire, however bad this knee injury turns out to be- it will be overcome. He may never be able to run again like we saw with astonishment this season- but he will be back and 80% of Robert Griffin III is way better than 100% of most others.
But painful lesson, indeed, for both he and his coach. None of it should take away from the amazing, ridiculously unexpected result of this Redskins season when a 22-year-old man/child led a 3-6 team to a divisional title through guts, leadership, and, yes, ironically, the kind of unflinching toughness that ultimately cost them in the end.
He is entirely too special to risk suffering any long-term damage. Even short-term thinking- one week’s rest, at a minimum, is the least the Redskins should do for their once-in-a-lifetime quarterback.
And it’s a decision the Redskins may need to take out of the kid’s hands because based on what we saw last Sunday at FedEx Field, Robert Griffin is a selfless warrior who would claw and scratch to get back out on the field, no matter how many of his limbs are hanging by a thread.
It’s not just about his health and the “mild” sprain of a right knee. Imagine winning a key playoff-atmosphere game led by your other rookie quarterback. Oh, that’s right- that’s precisely what Kirk Cousins already pulled off last Sunday against Baltimore. But can he lead the team for an entire game and claim a win over the suddenly resurgent Cleveland Browns?
I think so. First of all, the Browns haven’t exactly been beating the elite squads of the NFL. They beat a 7-6 Pittsburgh team without their starting quarterback. Then they edged the 3-10 Oakland Raiders and last week, the 2-11 Kansas City Chiefs.
The Browns won’t be a cakewalk, but any victory by the Skins without RGIII would do the team enormous psychological good. The kid’s will to win has already become contagious. Let’s prove the theory this Sunday in Cleveland without him.
For the short-term, a one-dimensional, pocket-passing, less mobile RGIII may very well win over the Browns- but it’s the two games that follow and potentially the playoffs after that where the Redskins will need his arm and his legs. And considering the intensity with which he plays and that this may not be the last time he sits out a game or two, it cannot hurt to give your back-up QB practice and game time.
And for the long-term, it would end up as the most tragic story in all of sports, if Robert Griffin were to have a career-threatening injury. It is hard to justify risking all that promise for the temptations of the present.
Granted, this doesn’t really compare to what the Washington Nationals decided to do with their young pitching ace, Stephen Strasburg last year. Strasburg was not even hurt. That was a much gutsier decision. But there is a similarity in the basic question of whether the future is worth considering, protecting and nurturing.
Baseball is much more of an annual marathon with its 162 games over six grueling months. The very nature of the sport and its lengthy seasonal slog lends itself more to long-term thinking. The NFL is the polar opposite. It is a sport premised on the future-is-now philosophy of immediate gratification. They only play 16 games. Each contest is 6% of the regular season. It’s a do-or-die each week.
This decision will be quite the test. Go for the brass ring now? Or rest the kid, let him heal a bit and put yourself in a position to reach for a half dozen brass rings over the next ten years- and maybe even one later this year? For this season and for the many more ahead; for the two divisional games that follow in Philadelphia and home against the Cowboys- this is a no-brainer. For this week- let RGIII lead the team from the bench.
To say Robert Griffin III is an inspiration is a considerable understatement.
He seems to have single-handedly willed what, on paper, is a mediocre football team into a playoff contender. He shows up at the Verizon Center to take in a Wizards game and the doormat of the NBA somehow rises to the occasion and knocks off the defending champion Miami Heat.
I see no reason he cannot pinch hit, pitch relief and run the bases for the Washington Nationals from time to time. I suspect he wields a pretty mean slap shot if the Caps can use a little help and if they actually play hockey this year. DC United could certainly use a forward with blazing speed.
But we’re thinking way too small here.
In his primary job as quarterback of the Redskins, since he is already uniting Democrats and Republicans in Washington D.C., I propose that RGIII be immediately made an honorary member of Congress and the chief negotiator in the fiscal cliff talks. Trust me on this, if you can take something built by Daniel Snyder and make it look good, you are capable of anything- including finding a solution to the debt crisis.
With Hillary Clinton about to step down after four stellar years as Secretary of State there is an obvious void. Oh, the President likes Susan Rice for the post, but congressional Republicans threaten to block her nomination, so it would seem a natural that you-know-who be tapped as our emissary to the world.
Can RGIII mediate a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Please.
Could RGIII talk Assad into leaving Syria? Must the question even be posed?
With that smile, that work ethic, that humility and composure, and all the raw skill and talent, not to mention an IQ I would wager is close to Leonardo da Vinci’s, there are many, many more useful things Mr. Griffin ought to be doing than throwing a friggin’ football for Dan Snyder.
All that said, if he does it for just one more decade and ten playoff appearances, I can see RGIII’s first campaign appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire around 2024 or so.
And you can sign me up right now.
It was the football version of Stephen Strasburg striking out 14 in his major league debut. Of watching a 19 year-old eclipse just about all records for any teenager in baseball history.
Those who wondered if the Washington Redskins had lost their marbles by trading away three 1st round draft picks for Robert Griffin III are wondering no more.
While several other rookie quarterbacks looked very much like rookies in the first Sunday of football action this season (including #1 pick, Andrew Luck, who threw three interceptions and fumbled once), RGIII left a dizzying legacy after just his first game.
He completed his first 8 passes in a row, including an 88-yard touchdown. He finished the first half with a perfect passer rating- a feat never before accomplished by any first-year player in the history of the NFL. He is one of only four rookies to debut with more than 300 yards passing. And his team won in a huge upset.
He accomplished this on foreign turf, against a New Orleans Saints team that didn’t lose a single regular-season home game last year. RGIII managed to outplay Drew Brees, who set an all-time NFL record for passing yards in 2011.
Beyond the stats, RGIII was cool, calm and collected- displaying a maturity way beyond his 22 years. This kid is the real deal. And he makes those around him play better.
History is replete with Heisman Trophy winners who are total busts in the NFL. Traditionally, it takes a young quarterback about three years to get into the groove of things. And again, history shows the teams they play for take awhile to get in gear too.
But this Washington team may be different.
For one thing, in Mike Shanahan they have a coach who is famous for his work with quarterbacks. He certainly did pretty well with one John Elway. His son Kyle, who when he had some talent to work with in Houston, became one of the top offensive coordinators in the league. The father-son duo are known for their x’s and o’s offensive savvy. They just haven’t had any talent to work with in Washington over their first couple of years.
But boy, do they now. And they are smart enough to build their offense around RGIII’s considerable skills. Watching what the Kid can do with his canon arm, his speed and agility and his smarts and composure- the Shanihan’s may be in for a whole lot of redemption in the years ahead after two disappointing seasons in Washington.
The Redskins are also now in their 3rd year of their 3-4 defense and finally have the personnel to pull it off. They way they handled the Saint’s high-powered offense and future hall-of-fame quarterback was truly impressive.
The team’s success is not all about RGIII. But no matter what side of the ball you play on, it is impossible not to feel good about yourself and your team, when you know you have a guy like that calling the signals and leading your club.
Three 1st round draft picks for Robert Griffin III? A friggin’ bargain. Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper for the Nationals. And RGIII for the Skins. Can we handle all this lightening in a bottle here in the nation’s capital?
Uh, Yes We Can.
The Washington Post had something like ten reporters covering the Redskins training camp this year. And on the eve of the pre-season debut of RGIII, you had to work pretty hard to find any Nationals story above the fold on the Post’s sports page.
These things happen because the Redskins won a few Super Bowls a generation ago.
Meantime, on the banks of the Anacostia River, there is a baseball stadium now hosting a minimum of 30,000 fans a night and a team that is no longer a flash-in-the-pan or a charming curiosity. It is, in fact, the most dominant team in the sport.
You see, there are three basic elements in the game of baseball; hitting, pitching and fielding. The Washington Nationals, as homegrown a team as I can remember, have led both the American and National leagues in pitching all season. It’s now well over a month after the All-Star break, and since the mid-season classic, no team has scored more runs than the Nationals. So, we have offense and defense covered. As for fielding, they rank 3rd in the NL right now.
It is expected that in a couple of weeks, the Nats will get their All-Star shortstop, Ian Desmond, back (poor things have gone 17-5 in his absence) and for the first time all year, the Nats will have their intended line-up in place. It does not seem to matter that a dozen players have hit the disabled list this year. They are 28 games above .500. They are on pace to win 100 games. They have an embarrassment of riches.
Take the San Francisco Giants, for example. They lead the NL Western division and are not exactly chumps. Sure, the Nats swept them in Washington earlier in the season, but it was so long ago. According to Bay area media, there has been great anticipation about this week’s visit by the Nationals- a test of what the playoffs may hold in store.
The Nationals led 14 to 0 after five innings of the series opener. They ended up winning 14-2. Next up, the Giants face Jordan Zimmermann, who has been so dominant on the mound that his last performance triggered considerable Cy Young award talk around the league. He now has the lowest ERA in all of baseball. He can thank his teammates for that. The San Francisco pitcher his teammates roughed up last night was the only hurler ahead of Zimmermann in ERA. And then Wednesday, the Giants get to face Stephen Strasburg.
All of which offers some perspective on Washington’s heretofore favorite sports franchise- the Washington Redskins. The contrast of how these two teams have been built is startling. Over in football world, Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, has spent well over a decade bringing in a revolving door of coaches, buying splashy free agents past their prime and, until recently, ignoring the more traditional and boring aspects of team development, like stockpiling draft choices and sprinkling in a few non-splashy free agents.
Over in Nats land, they got really bad over the years in order to get really good. They played a patient game that emphasized the basics; scouting, drafting and developing young talent. They did sign one huge contract when they went for Phillies outfielder, Jason Werth, two years ago, but it was meant as a statement to the rest of the league. Every now and again, in addition to developing what is now widely considered the best farm team in baseball, they showed they were willing to open their wallets and spend.
And they made a trade last year, giving up some of their hard-earned prospects for a young, proven pitcher named Gio Gonzalez who’s turning out to be having a career year and gives Washington the absolute rarity of three frontline-, #1 aces on the mound.
There is no doubt there is a sense of excitement about Robert Griffin III. His limited play in the Washington pre-season opener showed he has great presence and patience and real talent that was only made more obvious after back-up quarterback, Rex Grossman, got into the game and stunk up the joint. And the Skins seem to have a pretty powerful defense. But numerous injuries along the offensive line spark questions as to how much RGIII will have to be running for his life in his rookie season.
Anyway, in this town, it’s the Redskins that have something to prove. They come off a 5-11 season and two decades of futility since their last NFL title. They do have a real talent at quarterback for the first time in a long, long while- but it’s early and they have accomplished nothing.
Meantime, the now universally recognized best team in baseball, keeps chugging along piling up the most wins of any team in the sport, the highest run differential, the best pitching the game has seen in decades, and led by Davey Johnson, one of the best managers in the business.
Longtime WRC-TV anchorman, Jim Vance, did a wonderful on-air commentary on this Nationals vs. Redskins business a few weeks ago. And one of his closing lines simply cannot be improved upon. “The ‘Skins promise. The Nationals deliver.”