Tuesday, July 30, 2013
RG III and the pressures of superstardom
By Dan Graziano
Just 23, Robert Griffin III seems at ease with the crush of attention that comes with being a star QB.
RICHMOND, Va. -- At the end of every Washington Redskins training camp practice here, the players go over to the crowd of fans and each one selects a kid to walk the length of the practice field with him and chat, take pictures, etc., on the players' way back to the locker room. So you'll see, for example, London Fletcher quietly talking football with a young fan as they walk, DeAngelo Hall posing with a kid so his parents can take a picture, Alfred Morris handing a kid the gloves he wore in practice as a souvenir ... scenes like that.
After Saturday's morning walk-through, the crowd of young fans around Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III numbered more than 50. It was an amoeba of shouting, jumping children, overwhelmed with emotion at the idea that oh-my-god-it's-really-him!!! And it didn't strike anyone as weird.
"I don't know how you handle something like that," Redskins center Will Montgomery said of Griffin's stardom. "When I was with the Jets, playing with Brett Favre and some of those guys, it's a similar type of attention. I think with guys like that, it just comes with the territory."
There's a whole lot right now that comes with the territory of being RG III -- a 23-year-old international superstar who enters training camp under as much pressure and as bright a spotlight as any player in the NFL. Griffin is under franchise-savior pressure from a fan base enjoying its first real franchise quarterback in three decades. He's one of the poster children for the read-option offense, and as such is being watched closely by those who want to know whether its practitioners can evolve last season's thrilling chaos into something sustainable for the long term. He's under conflicting pressures to (a) come back as quickly and completely as possible from his second major right knee reconstruction in the past three years, and (b) make sure not to hurt the knee again. And he's under the ludicrous celebrity pressure that comes, in 2013, from being a star athlete whose every off-field move and word is dissected as thoroughly as his on-field work. (Didja hear he got married????)
Yet, one of the biggest parts of the RG III phenomenon is that he seems unusually well suited to handle all of this. Being a franchise quarterback, being a guinea pig for the latest offensive trend, rehabbing his knee and smiling for the endless parade of cameras ... none of those things, either by themselves or in combination, seems to rattle him.
"I think he just has the best composure," Redskins tight end Fred Davis said. "I think he just has confidence in himself. And I think when you have that, anything's possible. He has something about him. He's a special kid, and you can definitely tell. He's different. It's really unexplainable. A lot of guys don't have it, but he has it."
The best way to describe it is that Griffin is supremely comfortable in his own skin. That's a rare trait, period, but especially so among 23-year-olds and among people who live their lives in public. Griffin is both of those things, yet you wouldn't know it by the easy and effective way he draws people to him -- whether those people are fans, teammates, reporters, other celebrities, you name it.
"He's obviously a guy who's been brought up with good parents, good values, and he's a hard-working guy, humble -- the whole nine yards -- and there aren't a lot of guys like that," Montgomery said. "It's obviously rare, but he's having success and he's handling it well, and it's fun to be around."
The focus for Griffin, for his coaches and for Redskins fans right now is on that knee and the work being done to get it ready so he can be ready for the season and prevent a recurrence of injury. The daily updates on what Griffin is doing in practice and how much work it's going to take to get him ready, if possible, for a Sept. 9 "Monday Night Football" game against the Eagles are a huge part of the Redskins' news cycle right now and are likely to remain so all through camp and the preseason. Griffin knows this, of course, and doesn't mind discussing it.
"I think the biggest thing for me going against the Eagles, aside from them being a really good team, will be managing my emotions," Griffin said last week. "I've been able to do that in the past, and I've got to look to however I did that this season so that, when I play in that first game, I'm not too emotionally high and out of control."
An interesting thing for a young football star to know about himself and to bring up in a news conference more than a month in advance of the date in question. But Griffin is not usual. He is his own, unique phenomenon, and, if he comes back healthy and plays anything like the way he played in 2012, that phenomenon and the pressures that go with it are only going to grow. So, although Griffin's ultimate "success" rests on his ability to stay healthy and keep playing well, if he does manage to do those things, he'll have accomplished a lot more than that along the way.