Awakening from Heisman hibernation
Bears have never been in trophy hunt, but Baylor's Robert Griffin III changing all that
Heisman Trophy campaigns come along at Baylor every once in ... well, this is the first.
And so before the sports publicity office began to tout junior quarterback Robert Griffin III this season, it sought the approval of understated Bears coach Art Briles.
"Robert has always dealt with attention, being a quarterback and running track," Briles said. "He's used to having people looking at him."
After he helped end Baylor's 15-season bowl drought last year while rewriting the school record book, Griffin is now attracting more attention than ever. He's third in the nation in total offense and first in passing efficiency (13 touchdown passes, 12 incompletions and no interceptions).
Meanwhile, the 3-0 Bears are ranked 15th by the Associated Press, their highest poll position since they were eighth in October 1991.
Griffin even caught a pass back in Baylor's opener against TCU before a Friday night ESPN audience. That reception led to the winning field goal, capping a wild 50-48 win in which he threw five touchdown passes against a Horned Frogs team that had won 25 consecutive regular-season games. Then, on two hours' sleep, Griffin was driven 90 miles away from the university's campus in Waco up to Arlington to appear live on the Saturday morning "College GameDay" set.
"It's cool," Griffin said placidly of the publicity efforts. "It doesn't bother me. Whatever they need to do."
The school has created a Web page for Griffin, dubbed RG3, and mailed out a couple of informational "trading cards," with more expected.
Playing since 1940 in conferences that have sent champions to major bowls, the Bears have earned only two such berths as conference champs -- the Cotton Bowl following the 1974 and 1980 seasons. Last year's 4-4 league record is the Bears' best since Big 12 Conference football began in 1996.
"If 'Alabama' or 'Florida' was on the front of the jersey," said Baylor sports publicist Heath Nielsen, "we probably wouldn't do anything."
Griffin doesn't need coaching to prepare for interviews. That was handled when he played for Copperas Cove High School in central Texas. Bulldawgs head coach Jack Welch enlisted his brother, offensive coordinator Tracy Welch, to work with Griffin on that aspect.
"Talk about your offensive line. Talk about your backs," were the basics of the instruction, Jack Welch said. "Even now, he does a good job of highlighting his teammates."
Briles agreed. He said he believes Griffin's upbringing wouldn't allow him to become cocky.
"He has a great momma and daddy who keep him pretty grounded," Briles said.
"He's always been a humble child," she said. "If anything, he has been hard on himself. He'll say he didn't play good enough. He's always working on something to improve."
Griffin only started playing football as a seventh grader, shortly after he began participating in the town's successful track program. At Baylor, he was a Big 12 champion hurdler before taking over at quarterback and giving up track.
"He's still in development as a quarterback," Welch said. "His technique is catching up to his athleticism.
"His best days are ahead of him ... three or four years into the NFL."