Last week the Washington Redskins played a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. Seattle is a tough-minded, physical team that combines both size and speed on defense, which apparently in today’s NFL is a novel idea.
The Redskins brought in rookie phenomenon Robert Griffin III, a player capable of running and throwing (or throwing and running, if you like) his team to victory, in a manner that seems almost single handed at times.
There was only one problem.
Griffin had sustained a knee injury, specifically to the LCL. It didn’t just take away his game-breaking speed, but it had other implications as well. If some ligaments get injured the knee is completely compromised, but other ligaments take away the stability of the knee. Griffin’s injury was a ticking time bomb. Step the wrong way, and the destabilized knee could roll wildly, causing catastrophic injury.
The Redskins had the luxury of employing Dr. James Andrews, one of the finest doctors on the planet on his field of orthopedics. Its something you can do when you are second most valuable franchise in the League, and even other billionaire owners refers to your owner as filthy with the stuff. The only problem is… the coach didn’t take his advice. And then he lied about it.
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has had a tempestuous relationship with the truth over his coaching career. Let’s put it this way… if the truth was standing in a police lineup, Shanahan wouldn’t be able to pick it out. Shanahan gave a series of statements that only muddied the waters even more, but its always been clear that if Mike Shanahan tells you that its raining, it’s best to send the dog outside and then check to see if his fur is wet just to make sure.
Now playing through injuries is a badge of courage in football. For a rookie quarterback that had gotten his team to the playoffs, this was probably the biggest moment of his life. There was no question that he would play and that it was the sensible thing to do.
Waiting in the wings was fellow rookie Kirk Cousins, who was drafted to the team simultaneously. Shanahan has his faults, but you can’t say he isn’t proactive. The quarterback position is solved in Washington for a long time, and Cousins had played well in limited duty.
The stage was set.
Griffin began the game gingerly, but efficiently. What he lacked in raw power, he made up for it in decision making. But then, early on, Griffin got hurt again. It was the knee and it was obvious. He couldn’t plant his leg properly. He couldn’t run. He was the antelope and the lions were hungry.
Shanahan didn’t take him out. Cousins stared blankly onto the field.
In one of the most tone deaf and obstinate playcalls I have ever seen, the Shanahans (Mike and his son, offensive co-ordinator Kyle) called a quarterback draw in the third quarter, a play where the obviously hobbled Griffin would have to RUN. Griffin complied.
And then, in the fourth quarter, it happened. Griffin went to get the ball, and collapsed in a heap. It was over. You know when its over, even if its never happened to you before. There are things in your leg that are tight all the time, and you never notice them until they aren’t tight anymore. Depending on where you’re injured, it might not even be that painful. It just feels – wrong.
Griffin’s face showed more resignation than pain. But he knew. We all did.
We knew that Shanahan had played fast and loose with a young kid’s health. A kid that should never have played the second half. The only reason he was in there was a coach’s own intransigence. After all, his own kid was safe and sound on the sideline next to him. It was someone else’s kid he was gambling with. He should have been fired, but he won’t be.
Griffin’s injury is the type that used to take two years to recover from. There are people now that recover quicker, but there is nothing more genetic than how you heal. Even if he does, its the sort of injury that takes his 4.4 speed down a couple notches. They add up.
And when he gets older, and those aches and pains start to hinder him, coaches like Shanahan will decide he’s not worth his salary, and he’ll get jettisoned off of his team. No one will remember how he got his arthritis and spinal compression. He’ll be picked apart by millions of people that have serious difficulty getting off of their couch. And he doesn’t deserve it.
I’ve been around RGIII.
He gets onto the practice field earlier than any quarterback I’ve ever seen. Hours before a game, you’ll see ball boys trying to break in the game footballs. There might be a kicker or punter. The stands are empty. Griffin sprints out with a handful of receivers, his frame cut like a bodybuilder, but lithe, his gait springy like some sort of deer. He warms up, and then begins to throw short to medium routes to his receivers. He doesn’t waste his time throwing deep. Before each pause, after his short three-step drop, he visibly exhales to help himself relax, and then he throws an impossibly tight, accurate ball. He works until they make him stop. I can tell you for a fact that he doesn’t deserve to be treated like this.
I am abstractly reminded of the original Olympics. The winners received olive branches bent into a rude crown. It was called the Kotinos. But you know what happens when you cut flowers. I’ve seen beautiful blooms wilt the same day I received them. The Kotinos was a ‘corruptible crown.’
When I look at Robert Griffin III, I can only see a decent kid reaching for a corruptible crown. And I know how this plays out, even if I don’t want to.