In a statement earlier this week, Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan announced that Robert Griffin III will start the season opener. After tearing ligaments in his knee last January, RGIII will be back on the field just in time for the biggest stage of the regular season — Monday night football. D.C. fans breathed a collective sigh of relief, as their quarterback’s return is coming not a moment too soon. With the Nationals winding down a bitterly disappointing season and the Capitals still a month away from their opening faceoff, it is the Redskins’ turn in the spotlight.
Their second-year quarterback has a lot riding on his shoulders. Yet, at just 23 years old, he seems more than mature enough to carry the load. In a sport so wildly popular and teeming with distractions,RGIII remains unfazed by the attention, speculation or media chatter. As some of his colleagues struggle to deal with fines, attitude problems and off-the-field controversies, RGIII is as level headed as they come. He has earned the respect of teammates, who elected the rookie as the Redskins offensive captain last year. He has earned the trust of his coaches and doctors, who cleared him to play in the first week. He has earned the praise of fans, who have adopted “RGIII” as the latest catch phrase for a resurgent franchise. Those five characters are as big of a part of D.C. sports culture as the Redskins’ red and gold.
By all accounts, he is bigger than Alexander Ovechkin, Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg. Even in the middle of the offseason, when football seemed so far away, Griffin’s name was still dominating the headlines. His knee injury ignited one of our gravest fears. He starred in a TV documentary about his own life — aptly named “The Will to Win.” He signed book deals and was featured on the covers of magazines. We even got the inside scoop on his wedding plans and discovered his outlandish taste in socks.
There are a thousand reasons to like this guy. At least half of those reasons exist on the field — his unbridled athleticism, his 76-yard touchdown scampers down the sideline, his arm strength and creative improvisation. We love him for playing through the pain, for hobbling back onto the field with an injured knee and bravely trying to complete another pass at the end of last season. We love him because he is so fun to watch, and he makes us forget our hometown loyalties and the mindless points stacking up on our fantasy teams. For a few hours every Sunday, we watch the game solely for the purpose of watching the game.
But love alone will not guarantee that RGIII’s comeback will be a success. Though he has the will the win, his unique skills predispose him to injury. Athletic quarterbacks have a propensity for making big plays, but they also endure many more collisions. Listed at 6 feet, 2 inches, and 217 pounds, RGIIIhas a solid build, but perhaps not solid enough; compare that to Cam Newton’s 6-foot-5-inch, 245-pound frame or Andrew Luck’s 6-foot-4-inch, 239-pound build. The Redskins’ quarterback may have more speed, but surviving the NFL is ultimately about durability, and Griffin’s mass — combined with his risky style of play — may be the perfect storm for an injure-riddled career.
No fan wants to see that. Football needs players like RGIII back on the field. His electricity reminds us why over 15 million viewers tune in on an average Sunday afternoon. It is why we watch a game that makes us grimace whenever we see a brutal collision or an injured player laying on the field. It is why football remains America’s most popular sport despite the constant presence of violence and barbarity.
We watch because as much as we fear that next devastating collision, we believe in the comeback. We shirk at the pain, but we believe that it will all get better soon. The swelling will go down, and the blood will stop running. Those bruised bodies will become healthy again, ready to escape tacklers and throw touchdowns in the next season.
We hold onto the hope that there are more comebacks than careers ended. We hope that RGIII will have another 76-yard running touchdown and another defiant trip to the playoffs. There is precedent to follow: Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning did it last year, and Tom Brady did it in 2009.
Football fans are an optimistic bunch. Our hopes may not always coincide with the violent reality of the sport, but we hang on to the desperate belief that things are never as bad as they seem. As a new season begins, videos of RGIII running sprints in his knee brace is all the proof we need.
Nick Fedyk is a senior in the College. MORE THAN A GAME appears every Friday.