LOS ANGELES -- Two days in Southern California paint two very different pictures of Robert Griffin III.
The first image is dark and crowded, with Griffin tucked away on a couch at a Hollywood club, hat pulled down, seemingly bored to tears. It’s a Thursday night and Griffin and a handful of other notable NFL rookies – including Jacksonville’s Justin Blackmon, Arizona’s Michael Floyd and Miami’s Ryan Tannehill -- are guests at a video game premiere event.
This is not his scene.
The second picture is much brighter: full of color, vibrant, with a burgundy and gold Washington Redskins jersey shining on Griffin’s back in the sunlight. He’s on the campus of UCLA, where the NFLPA has arranged a celebrity flag football game.
This is Griffin’s scene.
He’s smiling for pictures, signing autographs, surrounded by fans. It reminds him of his days at Baylor.
“I’m going to miss the atmosphere of winning a big game and then going to class with all the fans,” Griffin said. “That’s a unique experience with college. They say it’s the best years of your life ... unless you make it to the NFL. I’m looking forward to making the NFL the best long, long, long years of my life.”
The former Baylor star was able to get a head start on adjusting to NFL hoopla as Washington made its draft intentions clear early. The Redskins moved up to draft Griffin the month before the draft, allowing him the chance to scout out his destination, get to know his surroundings and understand the lofty expectations placed upon him.
“Draft day was awesome. No matter if you know where you’re going or not, it’s still a huge moment,” Griffin said. “I enjoyed it. I was excited. I didn’t know what my emotions would be, but it was just excitement. No tears, just happiness for the people who helped me get to where I am.”
Griffin’s enthusiasm rubbed off on fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner at UCLA.
Trevor Rick, who has owned Redskins season tickets for 10 years even though he lives in California, can't remember the last time his favorite team had such an exciting prospect.
“The last time we’ve had a guy like, ‘This is it, this is the corner-turner,’ was ... geez, I can’t remember,” Rick said after posing for a photo with Griffin. “It’s been that long.”
Rick and the Redskins faithful are tantalized by Griffin’s skill, smarts and athleticism, a combination Griffin hopes to capitalize on in the nation’s capital.
“They don’t draft boring players,” Griffin said. “We do what we do for a reason. Receivers catch the ball; quarterbacks throw the ball and sometimes run a little bit. So hopefully I can bring that excitement to D.C. and overall just help the team win.”
It’s not just the talent that impressed the Redskins -- it’s his demeanor.
A chat with Griffin quickly reveals why he projects such different pictures.
He doesn't seem to get caught up in the trappings of NFL celebrity, even during initial introductions to the bright lights of New York City and L.A. Griffin said his “Welcome to the NFL” moment came when he first walked into the Redskins’ locker room and first threw a pass to Santana Moss, whom he “watched growing up, a guy who influences me to play the game.”
Griffin breaks into a wide smile talking about the location of his locker, which is directly next to veteran linebacker London Fletcher's.
“He passes the eyeball test for all the physical characteristics you look for, but his persona, his personality, his work ethic -- he’s not getting caught up in his own hype,” said Rick, whose grandfather served as one of the architects of old RFK Stadium. “He seems like he’s staying level-headed, just taking it as it comes, and he’s cool under pressure.”
All the parties, the glitz, the glamour? Forget it.
Griffin doesn’t get starstruck ... most of the time.
“It might be shocking to some, but when I saw Doug Flutie at the Heisman [ceremony], I was pretty pumped,” Griffin said. “I drop-kick because Doug Flutie drop-kicked with the Patriots. It was cool seeing Jay Leno and David Letterman. All that’s been great. But other than Flutie, probably the president, because I’ve met Barack Obama. Wait, Obama’s ahead of Flutie. I did not say that. I did not say that.”
Jon Gold is a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News and a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. You can find him on Twitter at @TheCoolSub or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.