Four years later, it feels like we dreamed the whole thing.
Dreamed that Washington struck it rich with a bold, pre-draft blockbuster. Dreamed that the team found its franchise quarterback for the next decade and longer. Dreamed that Robert Griffin III would revive the city and revolutionize the position.
Were we imagining all of that?
Did St. Louis really receive three first-round picks plus a second-rounder? Did RG3 actually rally Washington from a 3-6 start for its first NFC East title in 13 years? Did he truly take D.C. – and the league – by storm to become a local demigod and national storyline?
All of it is true. But you wouldn’t know based on the three years that followed, culminating with Griffin’s release on Monday.
His departure serves as a cautionary tale emphasizing one of sport’s most painful but valuable lessons: One great season means absolutely nothing … aside from being one great season.
Extended success isn’t promised and long futures aren’t guaranteed. But we never learn. Despite countless examples of flash-in-the-pan sensations and fly-by-night superstars, we fall for the next one time and again. With hopes and expectations raised after a rookie’s spectacular opening act, we go all in, expecting huge returns on our emotional investment.
We didn’t realize Griffin’s stock was at its highpoint on the first Sunday in 2013, when the Seattle Seahawks visited FedEx Field for a divisional playoff game. Even after he suffered a gruesome, non-contact injury to his already-damaged right knee, there was hope that RG3 would recover and pick up where he left off.
We’ll never know the extent that injuries played in Griffin’s free-fall from celebrity to castoff. He wouldn’t be the first luminescent star whose path was derailed by body damage incurred in action. But at least his torn ligaments occurred in a playoff game, not a rookie flag football game during Pro Bowl week in Hawaii.
That was the case when promising New England halfback Robert Edwards blew out a knee and nearly had his leg amputated in 1999. He barely got started on his career. Great players such as Bo Jackson and Gayle Sayers didn’t last five seasons before being stopped by wounds.
But we didn’t get ahead of ourselves on Griffin because we forgot injuries happen. No, the prospect of careers ending on any given play is embedded in our mind, even if it’s way in the back.
Visions of title runs and MVP seasons were sparked because Griffin flummoxed the league and won Offensive Rookie of the Year in one of the greatest debuts ever. When defensive coordinators didn’t have answers for his production in Mike Shanahan’s read-option offense, we assumed RG3 would only get better.
But we should’ve known it wouldn’t be automatic, injuries or not.
Especially for a quarterback who needs to master the fundamental requirements that athleticism can’t mask. There’s an inherent risk in running the QB too often when he’s a slight 223-pounder with a disturbing knack for absorbing big hits.
As defenses got a better grasp of Washington’s offense and got more physical with RG3, he inevitably would need to inflict more damage from the pocket and less through his scampers. Otherwise, his career track would resemble Vince Young more than Steve Young.
The former won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2006, leading four fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives as a dual-threat quarterback. But he had a career completion percentage of 57.9 over six seasons before he flamed out in 2011. Conversely, Steve Young – another excellent runner – began his career with a 52.2 completion percentage and gradually improved to the point that he led the league in five of six seasons (1992-1997), connecting on 67.9 percent of his attempts during that span.
We thought RG3 held similar promise, or more accurately, potential. But we’re no longer convinced. If anything, many observers bet the other way now, predicting Griffin never again reaches the heights he enjoyed as a rookie.
He’ll have an opportunity to prove doubters wrong at his next stop, where he’ll try to epitomize a different cautionary tale, the one about giving up on quarterbacks too soon. Ten or more teams reportedly might take a long look at RG3. He very well could re-write his story in his home state of Texas, though with quarterback-starved Houston – not behind Tony Romo in Dallas.
Whether Griffin rekindles the electricity, becomes serviceable-but-unspectacular or goes belly up with another team, his saga will be remembered as one of the most remarkable in NFL history.
We never dreamed it would end this way in Washington.
Maybe we’ll be more prudent when the next precocious rookie hits town.