Sheinin: Robert Griffin III, Washington's other fascination
For someone who hasn't been seen in action on the field in more than eight months, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III still manages to dominate debate in his adopted hometown of Washington like no other sports figure -- maybe no other figure, period. As RGIII prepares for his return from January knee surgery in the Redskins' 2013 opener Monday night against Philadelphia, the fascination with him -- and the misconceptions about him -- may be reaching another peak.
1. He's a publicity hound who wants to be a pop-culture icon.
In terms of exposure, Griffin's entry into the NFL was unprecedented: He had four national commercial campaigns (Adidas, Gatorade, Nissan and Subway) airing before he took his first regular-season snap. That was the start of a push, driven by his agents at Creative Artists Agency, to make him the future face of the league -- an effort that, by all measures, appears to have succeeded. Now, Griffin is everywhere, his image appearing on ESPN's "SportsCenter" roughly once every seven nanoseconds, and there is a paparazzi-like infatuation with his personal life.
Griffin is certainly comfortable with his celebrity, and there is no question that his natural magnetism is a marketable asset his agents have capably exploited. But Griffin has described himself in interviews as a "loner" or even a "weirdo" at heart, and his standard evening routine remains a home-cooked meal and a rented movie from Redbox.
The "selfish" label, which arose in news reports quoting anonymous NFL scouts before the April 2012 draft, may be a misreading of two other Griffin traits: his enormous confidence and his aloof manner around people he doesn't know. But he also signs autographs tirelessly and was voted captain by his teammates in 2012 and 2013.
2. His health is jeopardized by the Redskins' offense and his reckless style of play.
The rise of the "zone read" offense was one of the top story lines in the NFL in 2012 because of the success that quarterbacks such as Griffin, Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick had in running the college-style scheme. But while the other two stayed healthy, Griffin's season-ending knee injury in a January playoff game made many critics question whether the zone read -- which is predicated upon the quarterback's ability to run the ball, or at least the threat of him doing so -- was dangerous to Griffin's health.
But there are wide differences of opinion throughout the NFL about that. Some, most notably Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan, think the zone read keeps the quarterback safer, because the threat of a run "freezes" the linebackers and defensive ends who would otherwise rush him immediately. If Griffin is on the move, the defenders he needs to worry about are largely in front of him, as opposed to coming from his blind side or from behind when he is passing out of the pocket. Both of Griffin's major injuries in 2012 -- a concussion against Atlanta and the original knee sprain against Baltimore -- occurred on scrambles out of the pocket on pass plays, not on designed quarterback runs.
Similarly, reining in Griffin's aggressive style of play is a logical concept -- but that style is a large part of his on-field brilliance. Either of the regular-season injuries above could have been avoided with some less risky decision-making, and he can certainly do himself a favor by showing some better awareness about staying safe. But getting him to completely alter his style isn't going to happen, nor should it. Remember that the two most decorated drop-back passers in the game today, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, both suffered season-ending injuries while dropping back in the pocket. There simply is no completely safe place, or safe style of play, in the NFL.
3. The Redskins made a mistake by not taking Griffin out of the Jan. 6 playoff game against Seattle before he blew out his knee.
In hindsight, yes, of course. If only every player could be removed from a game just before suffering a serious injury! But the truth is, when the pivotal moment came, everyone with the power to take Griffin out of the game -- Shanahan, team orthopedist James Andrews and Griffin himself -- did what they had been trained to do in making the decision to keep him in.
The quarterback couldn't easily remove himself from the game, because such a move would earn him a lifelong reputation as "soft." The coach couldn't easily remove a star who insisted on staying in. And the doctor couldn't easily red-flag a player he had not fully examined, especially when part of his job is understood to be to patch up injured players and get them back on the field.
Griffin's compromised condition was obvious to anyone watching, but NFL players play hurt all the time, and if the Redskins had held on to win behind a hobbled Griffin, he would have been hailed for his "heroic" effort. If there is anything worthy of blame for what happened, it is the NFL culture -- flowing from the players and coaches all the way down to the fans who expect their stars to be "warriors" -- that not only permits but encourages that type of decision.
4. His public back-and-forth with Shanahan reveals an unbreachable rift.
The tension between quarterback and coach has been a constant subplot to Griffin's knee rehab, culminating Aug. 30, when Griffin tweeted that he had been cleared to start Week 1, only to have Shanahan, citing unspecified "concerns," put off the official announcement.
But this tension is mostly about public relations and internal politics, not football. The question that matters is whether there are lingering trust issues between the two men, stemming from the Seattle game and the direction of the Redskins' offense. The answer might not be known until the first few games of this season play out.
Coaches and star players don't have to agree on everything to have a successful partnership, and like everything else involving Griffin and the Redskins, all is likely to be forgotten and forgiven if he stays healthy and on the field in 2013.
5. Griffin is so talented that Redskins fans can count on multiple championships during his career.
Only 11 quarterbacks in history have won more than one Super Bowl, and only four -- Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman and Brady -- have won three or more, so a Griffin-era dynasty resulting in multiple titles is, at least statistically, highly improbable.
Even more problematic is precisely how long this "era" might last. Griffin, a man of many talents and interests, has dropped plenty of hints that he may not be an NFL lifer, even health permitting. He has suggested that he might try to play in the NBA or run the hurdles in the Olympics -- to name two sports at which he excelled in high school but eventually gave up in deference to football. The latter may be more realistic; in 2008, at age 18, he qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in the 400-meter hurdles, advancing to the semifinals.
Griffin also has harbored a lifelong dream of attending law school, and many family members and friends believe he will eventually go into politics.
Getting out of the NFL while still at the top would not be unprecedented. Jim Brown and Barry Sanders did so.
Dave Sheinin is a Washington Post staff writer and the author of "RG3: The Promise."