Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III used talent, work ethic and patience to earn the respect of his teammates.
The story line has become immortalized in Seattle: Rookie quarterback wows coaching staff, wins over veteran teammates, displays total grasp of offense, and leads team to a second-half surge and into the playoffs.
Change the name, add about four inches of height and a lot more preseason hype, and you have the saga of Robert Griffin III.
While he did not have to win the job before the season as Russell Wilson did — Heisman Trophy winners drafted No. 2 overall at the cost of three No. 1 picks in a trade tend to have jobs handed to them — Griffin and Wilson have run on parallel paths this season. And they will meet Sunday when Washington hosts the Seahawks in a first-round playoff game.
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Here’s Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on Wednesday gushing about Griffin in terms he normally reserves for Wilson: “He’s real. He’s a fantastic football player. He’s a great kid. He’s an incredible leader. They’ve built the team around him.”
And yet Washington still found itself at the precipice of irrelevance after the ninth week of the season. The team was mired with a 3-6 record and seemingly headed to a fourth straight losing season. But after a bye week, Washington has rolled off seven straight wins with Griffin and running back Alfred Morris, a fellow rookie, as the catalysts.
“I think it was a change of mindset,” Griffin said in a conference call with Seattle media. “There was no, ‘Hey, if we lose a game, we have 14 more, we have 13 more.’ We knew sitting at 3-6, we couldn’t afford to lose any more games. So everyone’s mindset changed, and every game was a playoff game for us. This will be our eighth straight playoff game.”
It was also after the bye week that Griffin was officially named a captain in a vote of his offensive teammates. It was an honor that coach Mike Shanahan had never before seen bestowed upon a rookie. But, then again, there has rarely been a rookie like RGIII (except perhaps in this rookie-rich QB season).
Like Wilson, whose leadership hasn’t been codified with an official captain’s designation, Griffin earned the trust of his team’s veterans gradually.
And he did so via the same way: through his work ethic, humility, poise and, most important, his production in games. Griffin’s 102.4 quarterback rating is third in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning — and just ahead of Wilson’s 100.0.
“You come in as a quarterback and you gain respect after you prove to the veterans how you work, how you prepare yourself, how you play,” Shanahan said. “That credibility comes through experience and playing well. I think as people got to know Robert, as time went on, they could see he was a natural leader, he worked extremely hard at his craft, he took it very seriously, and he had the intangibles you look for.
“A lot like Wilson. It doesn’t take you long to figure out they’re easy guys to like.”
Griffin said that being chosen as captain was an honor he didn’t take lightly.
“It was significant to me,” he said. “It meant a lot. It meant my teammates trusted me as their captain. Even though I’m a 22-year-old young man, a rookie in the NFL, they look to me as their leader. I thought that was huge. It speaks a lot about how they feel about me.”
Griffin said the key to earning trust is to not force it, and let it happen organically.
“I think sometimes when you come in and try to be too vocal too early, guys don’t really know who you are,” he said. “Eventually, they shut you out. What I did was I came in and worked hard. I showed them how I was going to work. I showed them the competitive desire and nature I have. Then when we went out into the preseason and the first game against the Saints, you show them how you play.
“I think that’s really what won everybody over. And now that they trust me as their leader, then you can start doing the talking when you need to, but you don’t have to abuse that privilege.”
Griffin, whose running ability is obviously a huge part of his game, has been hampered by a knee injury suffered Dec. 9 against Baltimore. He missed the following week, and has worn a bulky brace the past two weeks. Though he rushed six times for 63 yards in Sunday’s playoff-clinching win over Dallas, Griffin passed for just 100 yards, his lowest total of the season.
Griffin hopes to be able to shed the brace against Seattle. He said the knee won’t be a factor against the Seahawks.
“I’m 100 percent. Every time I step out on that field, I’m 100 percent,” he said. “My teammates know that. They know what I’m out there dealing with. I know what I’m out there dealing with. But when it comes to my mindset, I’m 100 percent.”
Spoken like the NFL gamer RGIII has become.
“He’s got all those commercials for a reason,” Carroll said. “He’s done it. He’s been just incredible.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
|A look at Robert Griffin III’s numbers:|
|1||Heisman Trophy, 2011|
|2||NFL draft pick, 2012|
|6.8||Yards per rush*|
|8.1||Yards per pass*|
|22||Age (turns 23 Feb. 12)|
|* Best in NFL|