When the Washington Football Team engineered a Kevin Costner, Draft Day-esque trade with the St. Louis Rams in 2012 to move up four draft spots from No. 6 to No. 2 to select Robert Griffin III, Washington felt confident that they were selecting their franchise quarterback for years to come. But after four seasons, multiple injuries, numerous controversies, and way too many Subway commercials, Griffin III had worn out his welcome in Washington and was left to pick up the pieces of what was left of his career.
Griffin III, better known by his moniker RG3, was electrifying at Baylor University producing close to 5,000 yards of total offense during his senior season on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. It was at the end of this season that Robert Griffin III officially began his process of turning into RG3, the flourishing soon-to-be superstar. Bred from a military family, he exemplified discipline, leadership, a desire to win, and a willingness to make the impossible possible. Washington was willing to mortgage a future bevy of first and second round picks to make RG3 the face of the team. RG3 was expected to lead Washington out of the playoff purgatory that saw them with two playoff appearances in a span of twelve years. RG3 gave people hope. RG3 was expected to win. Washington wanted RG3 to be, well, RG3.
Or at least they thought they did.
To many, RG3 along with Cam Newton, was the torchbearer for the next generation of Black NFL quarterbacks. The mid 2000’s was really a sad time as, the NFL saw a stark decline among top-notch Black signal callers. Daunte Culpepper and Steve McNair were on their way out of the league. The best of the bunch, $100-Million Man Michael Vick had a minor incident involving dogs that saw him exit stage left for a few years while Donovan McNabb became slower, more inaccurate, and allegedly “out of shape.”
The middle-tier quarterbacks like David Garrard and Byron Leftwich, who were really the same guy just with different throwing hands, were never going to excite anyone with their play. Their games were consistent, but boring; they were always good enough to win eight or nine games and rarely make the playoffs.
Vince Young was the darker-complected, right-handed version of Tim Tebow. After winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2006 and leading his teams to a 30-17 record despite never really knowing how to complete a pass, he eventually fell out of favor with head coach Jeff Fisher and subsequently the NFL (but of course not before playing on the “Dream Team”). Jason Campbell never really got his career off the ground after being selected in the first round in 2005. And Jamarcus Russell’s brief career was really a figment of everyone’s collective imagination.
RG3 was the savior. All he had to do was come into the NFL, say all the right things and play to the level that everyone believed he was capable of. What the Washington Football Team, and the rest of the nation had failed to realize, was that the mature, ultra-composed, intelligent player that rose the Baylor Bears to national prominence in college was not the same person in the NFL. Robert Griffin III captained that Baylor ship. RG3 was drafted number two overall. Griffin III was a leader. RG3 was a diva.
Throughout the 2012 season, Griffin III was a hero. He not only proved that it was a smart move for Washington to jump those four precious spots to grab him, but he also silenced any critics that emerged during the draft process. When Bob McGinn from the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel published his ratings of the top QB draft prospects he had some scathing reviews for a young Griffin III.
“Everybody is just assuming because of the Heisman and the socks and all that bs. . . . they are ignoring a lot of bad tape that he’s had,” a third scout said. “I don’t think he has vision or pocket feel, which to me are the two most important components of quarterbacking. He’s just running around winging it. He’s (Michael) Vick, but not as good a thrower.” Finished with passer rating of 110.1 and 2,254 yards rushing (33 TDs). “He has better arm action and is more accurate with his deep ball, but he’s not as good as Cam Newton,” a fourth scout said. “As much as is written about his athleticism, his athleticism under duress in the pocket isn’t even close to Cam Newton’s. This guy, the only way he gets big plays with his feet is if he’s got a wide-open field and the sea opens for him. He’s got a little bit of a selfish streak, too. Everybody was laying on Cam, but for some reason this guy has become gloves off. He doesn’t treat anybody good.” Another scout also questioned the way Griffin deals with people.”
Whoa! That’s pretty damning. Or at least one would think. In actuality, this report was successfully ignored by everyone. And with the way Griffin III performed during his rookie campaign, these critiques felt as asinine as the assertion that Cam Newton was “a sure-fire bust.”
Then one day in December the unraveling began. When Griffin III shared his thoughts about being a Black quarterback he responded with
“I am an African-American in America. That will never change. But I don’t have to be defined by that…I understand that [Washington fans are] excited that their quarterback is an African-American. I play with a lot of pride, a lot of character, a lot of heart…I appreciate them for being fans and not just fans because they’re African-Americans.” He continued with “We always try to find similarities in life, no matter what it is so they’re always going to try to put you in a box with other African-American quarterbacks.”
These comments were the first glimpse that the evolution Griffin III into RG3 was taking shape. Even in his attempt to say the right things, he somehow managed to raise more questions. While it could seem as if his comments were an attempt distancing himself from Black America one former ESPN commentator Rob Parker went as far as to question Griffin’s Blackness entirely.
Following his horrific knee (re)injury in the 2013 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, fans continued to see the inevitable transformation of Griffin III to RG3. The 2013 offseason brought “All in for week 1” courtesy of Griffin III and Adidas–a self-involved campaign declaring Griffin’s full fitness for the first game of the season. Recommendations from coaches and doctors be damned. Although was “all in” the 2013 was a disaster for Griffin, eventually being benched in favor of Kirk Cousins, and for Washington who finished 3-13.
After a fractured ankle in the second game in 2014, Griffin returned mid-season and promptly completed his evolution. He offered up these words following a blowout loss to Tampa Bay. ““It takes 11 men,” Griffin said. “It doesn’t take one guy, and that’s proven. If you want to look at the good teams in this league and the great quarterbacks, the Peytons and the Aaron Rodgers, those guys don’t play well if their guys don’t play well. They don’t.”
RG3 had officially arrived; his full diva metamorphosis was finally complete.
This was the person that Bob McGinn was warning everyone to be weary of. There were glimpses of RG3 that popped up at inopportune times throughout his brief career, and eventually his real identity surfaced. RG3 continued to progress through the entirety of the 2014 season, alienating himself from his teammates. Eventually the toxicity of RG3’s personality combined with another losing season caused frustration in the locker room to erupt. An anonymous player stated that RG3 was “is a spoiled diva who cares more about branding himself than winning” and that “He’s secluded and it affects us in the game. We don’t have that real rapport. He’s lost confidence and is complacent now.”
During a 2015 preseason game against the Detroit Lions, RG3 was hit very hard. Repeatedly. He eventually suffered a concussion and was removed from the meaningless game. He would never see the field for Washington again. This marked the end RG3. He went from winning the rookie of the year trophy to the official clipboard holder in a span of 32 months. Once the dust settled, RG3, the player that was brought to Washington with the holding the hopes and dreams of a team, a city, and in some ways the Black quarterback lineage, was left to put together the puzzle pieces of a broken career.
The Cleveland Browns wanted to be the team to help RG3 resurrect his once promising career. In order for that to happen, RG3 must stay gone and allow Robert Griffin III to resurface. Griffin III made Baylor University’s football program nationally renowned. Griffin III exhibited the characteristics of a disciplined leader, capable of motivating his teammates to achieve great feats. Griffin III wasn’t worried about his brand, being “All In,” or trying to say the right thing. He just knew he had to perform on the field, and do whatever was necessary to achieve that goal. This is the person that can succeed in Cleveland, which in recent history has not been kind to quarterbacks.
The Griffin III redemption story has yet to be written, but the opportunity is in his grasp. As long as the last image fans remember of RG3 was him being pulled off the turf in Detroit, there can be plenty of room for Griffin III to author his narrative with a successful ending.
This piece was originally published on The Sports Fan Journal.