Placing Redskins history on Robert Griffin III’s shoulders


(Mary Altaffer/AP)

But it seems the level of hype has been unparalleled, at least in Redskins history. Nearly 20,000 people showed up to Griffin’s debut for fans, giddy with chants of “RGIII.” Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said he hopes Griffin doesn’t miss a game for the next 10 years. And shirts carrying Griffin’s name went up for sale at FedEx field and in fans’ email inboxes just moments after the announcement was made.

Such mania around one player may drive ticket sales and, hopefully, boost enthusiasm around the team’s performance. But it will also create enormous pressure on a young player who, no matter how talented or likeable or unflappable, will have huge expectations to meet. Griffin says “if no one’s expecting anything out of you than obviously you’re not good at what you do.” But he also acknowledges he will have to do his best to manage expectations and rely on his team. “I try not to take the weight of the past 20 years on my shoulders. I realize that there’s other guys on this team that can help us be successful.”

Even though Griffin may be saying all the right things now, the real test will come when, whether he wants it there or not, the Redskins history is placed on his shoulders. This is a team that hasn’t played in a Super Bowl since 1992, has had eight different head coaches since then, and has run through a long string of starting quarterbacks as it searches for leadership. Fans are hungry for a passer who can change all that, and see Griffin as a savior of sorts.

For all Griffin’s promise, there’s at least a decent chance they could disappointed. The Post’s Mark Maske reported that when two quarterbacks have held the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the draft (Griffin went second overall in the draft after the Redskins traded up to pick him; Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck went first to the Indianapolis Colts), there’s about a 50-50 shot that they’ll truly succeed. Moreover, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that teams who trade up to go after coveted players overpay in doing so, meaning the Redskins are taking on risk.

It’s also worth noting that the only NFC East team that didn’t trade up in the first round of this year’s draft, the recent two-time Super Bowl winning New York Giants, has a record of winning through teamwork and finding diamonds in the late rounds — or among those players who went completely undrafted.

As a result, I don’t see Shanahan’s move to also draft a second quarterback as a bad idea, though many have criticized him for doing so. Yes, he may have given up valuable picks for other positions. And yes, it may be difficult to develop two young players at one time. But the pressure Griffin will be under, no matter how much of a star he becomes, warrants Shanahan making a Plan B.

The hype surrounding Griffin’s addition to the Redskins may be deafening now, but the criticism Shanahan would receive for not having a suitable alternative could be just as loud. For leaders, building a deep bench at the most critical position matters just as much, if not more, as having a star in every spot on the field.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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