Maybe you remember seeing this Washington Post image of a man holding an RGIII ‘Hope’ poster at the 2012 NFL draft?
Or maybe you remember seeing this recent ESPN the Magazine image featuring the same man, holding the same sign, during the Seahawks playoff game?
Well that man is Eli Northrup, and he has a story to tell. Here’s what he e-mailed me:
Given the recent ESPN the Magazine cover story on Robert Griffin III comparing him and his rise to President Obama, I felt compelled to share my experience. I am the man depicted in the article, holding up the “HOPE” poster.
On April 26, 2012, I went to the Staples on 6th Avenue and Waverly Place in New York City, and printed a 3 foot by 2 foot poster of an image I had found online of Robert Griffin III. It was a take on the Obama campaign poster, with RGIII’s smiling face in burgundy and gold above the word “HOPE.” As a die-hard Redskins fan for my entire 28-year existence, I had known defeat and despair. I had seen a parade of quarterbacks come and go in a disappointing succession. I had seen Jim Zorn. But there was something special about this young man that we were prepared to draft with the second overall pick. Though I was living in New York, I could feel the winds of change in our nation’s capital.
I brought the poster to the NFL draft that night, expecting that it would lead to some high-fives from Redskins fans, but general derision from everyone else. However, when I got there, a funny thing happened. I was swarmed by people who wanted to take photos with me and the poster. These were not just Redskins fans, but fans of all teams — even rivals like the Giants and the Eagles (to their credit, I do not recall any Cowgirls fans approaching me). It was then that I realized that RGIII was not just a new quarterback who might help the Redskins win a few more games. He was a phenomenon.
When the Redskins got on the clock with the second pick, the Skins fans in attendance started a resounding “Yes we can” chant. Because of the poster, I was moved down to the VIP section, right in front of the Radio City stage. When Robert’s name was called I was screaming so hard that I almost fainted. I think I saw RGIII salute me. He was ours.
In the afterglow, I met a few of RGIII’s family members. I have a photo of a woman I was told was his grandmother holding up the “HOPE” poster. I was also approached and photographed by numerous members of the media. The image ended up in the Washington Post and ESPN.com, among other places. The Redskins representatives at the draft gave me a cup full of M&Ms with Redskins logos on them. It was my happiest moment as a Redskins fan; unsurprisingly, it took place during the offseason.
Fast forward to January 6, 2013. The Redskins were hosting the Seattle Seahawks in our first home playoff game since 2000
1999. Though I live in New York City, I knew I needed to attend. The “HOPE” poster, which had been sitting in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house in Bethesda for the intervening months, was coming with me. For me, it was a symbolic gesture more than anything — the draft had been the alpha; the playoffs, the omega.
I managed to find great seats for the game, right behind the Redskins endzone. Again, numerous photos were taken of me holding up the poster. It appeared on the Washington Post’s website, as well as Sports Illustrated and now in latest issue of ESPN the Magazine.
Looking back on it now, however, I don’t know that the “HOPE” poster captured the sentiment of Redskins nation on that January day the way it had at the draft eight months earlier. In that short time, RGIII had put the franchise squarely on his back and given us one of the greatest seasons in Washington sports history. He dazzled us from the beginning — a dominant performance in his first NFL game against the Saints; the electrifying 76-yard run to beat the Vikings; the two crucial victories over the Cowboys. He was a dream come true.
And because of this, by the time the playoffs rolled around, Redskins fans no longer felt Hope. Instead, we felt Belief. RGIII had made us believe in our team for the first time in as long as I can remember. Even after his knee gave out on the decimated FedEx Field turf and we walked away with a first-round playoff loss, we continue to believe in RGIII. The “HOPE” poster will be retired.
New York, NY