Saturday, September 3, 2011
Griffin proves his greatness on the big stage
By ESPN.com staff ESPN.com
WACO, Texas -- Robert Griffin III whirled spirals to sprinting receivers for touchdowns five times on Friday night.
He sprinted shortly after to congratulate them.
He's the spokesman for the team, but Griffin's best show of leadership in Friday's 50-48 win over No. 14 TCU came when he was physically unable to speak.
A Griffin fumble set up a TCU go-ahead field goal that turned a 24-point, fourth-quarter lead into a one-point deficit with just more than four minutes to play.
Griffin said he was on the sidelines "in a hole." His receiver, Kendall Wright, encouraged him through his tears on the sideline.
"I didn't want my team to lose because of me," Griffin said, despite tallying 359 yards and five touchdowns on 21-of-27 passing.
At the end of the third quarter Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III had more touchdown passes (5) than incompletions (3). He finished 21-of-27 for 359 yards and made a key reception.
Griffin took the field, but the offense sputtered. Facing a third-and-10, Griffin whipped a pass to Wright, a former high school quarterback, near the sideline and then Griffin raced up the middle of the field. Wright threw the ball to Griffin.
"I'm about to get hit. Real hard," Griffin said. "As soon as I threw it, the middle opened up, but I saw the safety eyeing me, so I turned, and I knew he was going to knock the crap out of me."
He did. The play was good for 15 yards, but the hit caught Griffin in the back and knocked the wind out of him. He remained on the ground before being helped up by teammates. Except he couldn't talk and was struggling to breathe.
The answer? Have running back Terrance Ganaway call the next few plays while Griffin made fake gestures to his teammates as a decoy.
"If you get slapped around, you either fight back, or you go in a corner," coach Art Briles said. "We weren't going to go in a corner."
Briles was talking about his team. He might as well have been talking about Griffin.
Despite the respiratory drama, Griffin never left the field. Briles gave his quarterback a break with a pair of run plays following the big hit, but Griffin's play and what followed spoke much louder than anything he could have said at any point earlier in his career, which is now in its fourth year at Baylor.
"When you take shots, and you get up and still make plays? That's leader quality," said Ganaway, who finished the night with 120 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. "A quarterback has to possess those qualities, and Robert Griffin has them."
He used them to move Baylor down the field and into position to kick a game-winning 37-yard field goal that later prompted a field storming, which once upon a time was a rarity in Waco.
"Those are classics," Briles said of Friday night's win, highlighted by the drama-filled fourth quarter.
After Friday night and last year's win over Kansas State that clinched bowl eligibility, these Bears are becoming field-storming veterans.
"He's a winner. He's a competitor, and he's a guy that rallies people around him," Briles said of Griffin.
Griffin has rallied his teammates for a win over a ranked team (TCU) for the first time since 2004 and a bowl berth in 2010 for the first time since 1994.
"That's two pretty big jobs," Briles said.
This night ended with Griffin trying to do a postgame interview to a national audience on ESPN while being mobbed by the student section as he leaned against the inside of the stadium wall.
"Can I have your wristband?" a fan yelled.
Griffin gave it to him.
Somehow, a fan ended up with Griffin's mouthpiece and interrupted the quarterback's impromptu autograph-signing session on the field after the game. He asked if he could keep it.
"You want it?" Griffin asked.
Griffin has brought this program to places it hasn't seen in decades.
Friday's crowd of 43,753 was the largest for a season opener at Baylor since 1975.
On Saturday morning, Griffin's heroics are scheduled to land him at the desk of ESPN's "College GameDay."
Baylor hadn't won on ESPN since 1986. On Friday night, Baylor captured its national stage and thrilled the millions watching with a high-flying offense that jolted alive just in time to prevent Friday from becoming one of the darkest nights in the program's history.
Instead? Jubilation in Waco, thanks to a big catch and a whole lot of big plays.