It was supposed to be “the era of unbridled optimism.” Or at least that’s how long-time Washington Post writer, radio host and Pardon the Interruption star Tony Kornheiser described Robert Griffin III, following his impressive debut for the Washington Redskins in 2012. However, since his rookie season, the once bright, unstoppable star of RG3, is fading fast and nearing extinction following the latest in a string of major injuries.
Coming out of high school in Texas, Griffin was a four star recruit, wanted by big time colleges for his ability to run hurdles as much as his ability to quarterback an offense. Griffin initially committed to the University of Houston, before switching his commit to Baylor after Houston Head Coach Art Brilies accepted the same position at Baylor.
Griffin enrolled at Baylor for the spring semester in 2008. Competing on the track team, Griffin ran 400 meter hurdles that semester. Griffin didn’t just run track, he dominated the Big 12 competition and finish third in the NCAA that season. Griffin’s early college success would give him the chance to compete at the 2008 United States’ Olympic trials. As a 17 year old made it to the semi-finals, but failed to qualify for Beijing. The initial foundation for Griffin’s stardom was ignited, and he hadn’t taken a snap on the football field.
As the seasons changed from spring to summer and then fall, Griffin would be named the starting quarterback for the Baylor football team. Griffin’s freshman season, saw him capture the Big 12 offensive freshman of the year, after he completed 59.9 per cent of his passes for 2091 yards and 15 touchdowns. But it was the explosive running ability that put Griffin’s star on the map. Griffin finished the season with 846 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. Baylor finished 4–8, near the bottom of the Big 12 standings.
Griffin’s initial season would be a sign of what would come during the next four year of his life. But three games into his sophomore season would foreshadow the past four years of Griffin’s career.
Two games into Griffin’s second season, he showed improvement throwing the football. Early in Baylor’s third game of the season, Griffin tore his ACL and was granted a medical redshirt from the NCAA. Griffin would be relegated to the classroom and rehab room. Coming from a military family, work ethic was installed within him from an early age. While at Baylor, Griffin graduated in three years with a GPA of 3.67 and a degree in political science.
After a year of rehab, Griffin returned to the starting lineup for his redshirt sophomore season. Griffin’s ascent to stardom continued, as Baylor reached its first bowl game in 16 years, finishing with a 7–6 record. Griffin continued to improve as a passer, completing 67 per cent of his pass for 3501 yards and 22 touchdowns. The prior year’s injury did not have a negative effect on Griffin’s running ability, as he ran for 635 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Entering his redshirt junior season, Griffin was a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, but nowhere near the favourite to win it. That would all change after one game. Unranked Baylor hosted the 14th ranked Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, in a nationally televised primetime Sunday night game. In what can only be described as an instant classic, Baylor defeated TCU 50–48, with Griffin electrifying the Waco crowd. Griffin completed 21 of 27 passes for 359 yards and five touchdown passes. Griffin was officially a star. The nickname RG3 was nationally known.
Baylor would finish the season 10–3 and ranked 13th in the Associated Press poll. In the classroom, Griffin graduated and began working on his masters in communications. On the football field, Griffin completed 70.2 per cent of his passes for 4293 yards and 37 touchdowns, while adding another 10 touchdowns and 699 yards rushing. Griffin would be awarded the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football.
But Griffin was more than just a star in college. He had the type of star power that turned Baylor into a star itself. Before the arrival of Griffin, Baylor was a perennial bottom feeder that rarely won anything. But with the Griffin and Briles combination, Baylor became a winner destination program for the top recruits. Baylor had never been a destination program. Top recruits were suddenly coming to Waco, Texas. Despite being located between Dallas and Austin, Texas, nobody ever wanted to come to Baylor, until RG3 made it a destination.
A few weeks later after winning the Heisman, Griffin would play his final game for Baylor. When the lights shined the brightest on national television, so did RG3. Griffin put on yet another highlight reel in a nationally televised primetime game, a trend throughout his career. The season started the same way the season began for Baylor, an instant classic. Baylor defeated Washington 67–56 behind Griffin’s 350 yards and two touchdowns.
Weeks later, Griffin would declare for the 2012 NFL draft. Griffin, along with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck (who Griffin beat for the Heisman) were considered the top two players available. The Indianapolis Colts selected Luck with the first pick. While the Redskins traded up with the St. Louis Rams. For the Rams’ second overall pick the Redskins sent the sixth overall pick, a second round pick in 2012 (39th overall), and first round picks in 2013 (22nd overall) and 2014 (2nd overall). Expectations were through the roof for Griffin, after the Redskins traded up to select him.
To be a star in college is one thing. Being a star in the NFL is another. Numerous college stars have failed in the NFL. Becoming a star in the NFL, takes a player from national stardom, to international stardom.
The Redskins opened the season in New Orleans against the Saints its notoriously hostile home field advantage. In his first game Griffin announced to the world he was a star and Kornheiser coined the phrase, “era of unbridled optimism.”
Griffin’s stardom can be pinpointed to one play. After completing his first six passes and leading the Redskins to a field goal on their owning drive. Griffin found his offense starting on their 12 yard line. Griffin took the snap from the center faking a handoff to the running back running to his right. The fake, holds up blitzing Saints’ safety Malcolm Jenkins for a split second. The second is all Griffin needs as he throws the ball across the middle of the field to receive Pierre Garcon right before Jenkins hits him. 88 yards later, Garcon wins a footrace to the endzone. The replays cut back to Griffin, showing Jenkins knock him down. Lying on his back, Griffin watches as Garcon breaks loose. At first Griffin’s shoulders slightly off the ground, but as Griffin sees Garcon is going to score he sits up with both arms extending into the air and both index fingers pointing. Griffin would finish with 362 yards and touchdowns leading the Redskins to a 40–32 win.
Washington would start the season 3–3 and would feature Griffin being knocked out of one game and the following week’s game with a concussion. After three consecutive losses, the Redskins season appeared to be over at 3–6.
But Griffin had different ideas. Washington would win their remaining six games, including five divisional games. Yet again, it was Griffin performing on a nationally televised game that again raised his stardom. Following a four touchdown performance, in which he completed 93.3 per cent of his passes in a win over Philadelphia, Washington travelled to Dallas for the annual Thursday Thanksgiving game. Again, Griffin dominated in front of one of the traditionally highest view games of the year. Griffin threw four touchdowns in the win. Griffin would win league honours as rookie of the year after completing 65.6 per cent of his passes for 3200 yards and 20 touchdowns. On the ground Griffin added another 815 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Washington would make the playoffs after winning the NFC East and hosted the Seattle Seahawks in a playoff game. Although, no one knew it at the time, this game proved to dimming of the RG3 star. Washington jumped out to a 14–0 lead, but the Seattle defense did not allow another point after the first quarter. Late in the game Washington center Will Montgomery botches the shotgun snap. Attempting to pick up the loose ball, Griffin’s knee buckles and he collapses on the field, unable to get up. The fans within the stadium were in “stunned silence” as described by Fox play by play man Joe Buck. Griffin had torn his ACL and LCL.
During the off-season, Adidas and Griffin launched their marketing campaign, “All in for week one.” The ads featured Griffin promising to be back for week one of the NFL season, just eight months following major knee surgery. The regular recovery time is closer to a full year.
Kornheiser ripped Griffin. The media firestorm picked up. The once unquestioned star was now second guessed and ridiculed for every comment he made. Griffin did return for week one, but could not reproduce his rookie form and would be shutdown with three games to spare in the season. Griffin produced similar yardage rates, but was less efficient doing so. To compound problems, Griffin’s touchdown numbers sharply declined, while his turnovers increased from seven in 16 regular season games as a rookie to 13 turnovers in 13 games. After the season, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was fired and replaced with Jay Gruden.
Griffin’s third season saw his passing efficiency improve to levels near his rookie season. But again, Griffin had more turnovers than touchdowns. For the third straight season, Griffin would miss time with an injury. In the second week of the season Griffin dislocated his ankle missing half of the season. Griffin would return to the lineup only to be benched for Colt McCoy. When McCoy was injured, Griffin returned to starting lineup.
Throughout his first three seasons, Griffin had a rocky relationship with both Shanahan and Gruden. Griffin and Shanahan struggled to get along, but made it work in their first season together. The second season saw the relationship fall apart and Shanahan fired for it. The relationship with Gruden never developed. Gruden started Griffin because he had to, not because he wanted to.
Entering his fourth season, Griffin was named the started by Gruden, months prior to camp before changing his mind. Gruden named Kirk Cousins the Redskins starter after Griffin suffered a concussion in the preseason. Cousins was drafted by the Redskins in the fourth round of the same draft as Griffin. The move was second guessed from the moment it was made.
With Cousins as the starter, Griffin dressed for just one game throughout the seasons. The Redskins were doing everything they could to prevent Griffin from getting injured and guaranteeing the fifth year of his contract. Cousins completed 69.8 per cent of his pass for 4166 yards and 29 touchdowns leading the Redskins to a 9–7 record and NFC East title, but lost in the first round to the Green Bay Packers. The Redskins success with Cousins as the starting quarterback ended the RG3 experiment in the District.
Following the conclusion of the NFL season, Griffin was released. A few weeks later, he was signed by the Cleveland Browns to be their starter. One game into the season, Griffin showed flashes of the electric player he had been. But again late in the game, Griffin was injured breaking his coracoid bone in his left shoulder. The injury potential extinguishes the Robert Griffin III star for good. The Browns placed the once star quarterback on injured reserve. Although eligible to return this season, we may have witnessed the last start for RG3 in the NFL. In sad and unfortunate end of an era of unbridled optimism.