NEW YORK -- For the players who get taken in the first round of NFL draft, it's hard to to top this week. They are honored and celebrated all over the world's greatest city, treated like heroes in a town that knows as well as any what that word really means. They are congratulated at every turn, applauded on stage at Radio City Music Hall, then flown off to the hometowns of their new employers to sign multimillion-dollar contracts and enjoy red-carpet welcomes all over again.
For Robert Griffin III, the new quarterback of the Washington Redskins, this week represents the end of quite a roll. He went through something very much like this in December, when he was here winning the Heisman Trophy. Since then, he has been hailed as a can't-miss prospect, a savior for whom the Redskins were willing to trade three first-round picks and a second-rounder. It's the kind of thing that could go to a young man's head -- if this were a different young man.
"It's about how humble you stay," Griffin said a couple of hours after the Redskins made official what everyone had known for a month. "It's how smart you can be amid everything that's going on. I'm not going to go into that locker room and say, 'Hey, guys, look at me. I'm on the cover of ESPN the Magazine.' That's not going to work, and I understand that."
As wonderful as his tape looks, as fun as his smile is, as perfect a fit as he appears to be for what Mike Shanahan and the Redskins like to do, this stuff Griffin was saying late Thursday night is the best thing Redskins fans could be hearing about him right now. Because there are two different ways things can go for a guy after he wraps up draft week in New York and heads off to work as an NFL rookie. And if you're not willing to accept the need to reset your sense of humility and remember how much work lies ahead of you ... well, then things could really go the wrong way.
"People say that being drafted can change who you are," Griffin said. "And I think it's the lifestyle change that can be a bit of a shock. So you have to make sure and remember who you are and why they picked you."
The Redskins are asking Griffin to be something they haven't had for a couple of decades now -- a franchise quarterback, capable of leading them to championships. He will get almost no honeymoon, because no one does in today's NFL. Three years ago in this same room, the Jets traded up to take Mark Sanchez, who would find out that not even winning four playoff games in your first two years buys you extra benefit of the doubt from your fans or organization. There is no patience now, and Griffin's every throw, every word and every decision will be picked apart as it never has before.
"I'm having to carry the weight of a city and the fact that they haven't had a franchise quarterback in a long time," he said. "The quote-unquote 'savior' comment is something I ran into at Baylor, and it taught me how to manage that. I know I'll have to do that in D.C. on an even grander scale."
Among the many things he has going for him, Griffin understands his assignment. What the Redskins and their fans will expect of him is what he must expect of himself -- to make sure that Draft Week 2012 does not, going forward, remain the highlight of his football career. Redskins fans will be pleased to know that he has plans to make sure it does not.
"The goal isn't just to restore the Redskins to what they were, it's to do even better than that," Griffin said. "And it starts with a mindset. If you're drafted into the NFL, you have some degree of talent. From there, it's about how you inspire the people around you. You try to come in and show your teammates why they can trust in you and believe in you, rather than telling them, 'Hey guys, you can trust in me. You can believe in me.' And you do that by the way you carry yourself and how hard you're willing to work."
Griffin likes to talk about his teammates. He was back on stage when Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright was taken No. 20 by Tennessee, and he celebrated as if he himself had been picked again. He's following closely to make sure his Baylor center, Philip Blake, gets picked as high as possible in this draft. He backs up that support for his teammates. He declined all offers of private workouts for teams because he wanted teams to show up at Baylor's pro day and watch the rest of his draft-eligible buddies. That's the kind of behavior, if he keeps it up in the pros, that can keep inspiring his new teammates, too.
In the end, though, the key thing for Griffin to remember is how important it is that he forget all of the hype that has led to this moment and focus on the hard work, the study time, the nitty-gritty, non-glamorous stuff he needs to do to hone his game, develop as a pro and transform the downtrodden Redskins into a winner.
"If we're successful in Washington, it's not just me," Griffin said. "But if we're not successful in Washington, it is just me."
Yes, a lot of work and a difficult challenge confronts this young man. And it remains to be seen how it will work out for him. The good news, from this vantage point, for his new fan base is that he really, really, really appears to get it.