What’s next for injured Redskins quarterback RG III?
Adapted from the author’s upcoming book, “RG3: The Promise,” from Blue Rider Press.
Early in the morning on January 9, 2013, three days after the playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks that ended the Washington Redskins’ season, Robert Griffin III sent a message to his Twitter followers: “Thank you for your prayers and support. I love God, my family, my team, the fans & I love this game. See you guys next season.” At around 7:00 a.m., a team of surgeons at the Andrews Institute Ambulatory Surgery Center in Gulf Breeze, Florida, made incisions in both of Griffin’s knees. From his left knee, the doctors cut away part of the patellar tendon, as well as a portion of the connected bone, which were then grafted to his right knee, where the tendon would become his new anterior cruciate ligament.
The doctors had to take the tendon and bone from Griffin’s otherwise healthy left knee because the same tissue in his right knee had already been used as a graft during his 2009 ACL reconstruction, which this surgery would be revising. The doctors also reattached Griffin’s torn lateral collateral ligament and repaired a tear in the medial meniscus. From beginning to end, the entire surgery took nearly five hours.
Griffin had traveled to Florida from Virginia the day before on Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s private plane, along with some family members and team officials, including Snyder himself. Once the tests were taken, the options discussed, and the strategy plotted, the surgery was scheduled for as soon as possible. Every day that passed was precious if Griffin hoped to be ready for the 2013 season.
“You won’t see the same Robert Griffin. You’ll see a better Robert Griffin.” Robert Griffin III
Griffin had a pretty good idea of what lay ahead of him over the coming weeks and months, having rehabbed the same knee three and a half years earlier while at Baylor, but this surgery was more complex and invasive, and estimates for the recovery time he would need before playing football again ranged from eight months to twelve. It didn’t take a math degree to figure out that even the midpoint of that estimate would cost him a sizable portion of the 2013 NFL season. Nobody dared question Griffin’s commitment to the rehab process. Just the opposite — those who recalled the way he had thrown himself headlong into his 2009 rehab, like a man possessed, predicted a speedy and complete return.
“Frankly, he was so much better on the mental side of things when he came back from his ACL [in 2009], I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw an even better Robert Griffin,” said Houston-based surgeon Mark Adickes, who happens to be a former Baylor and Redskins lineman and who performed Griffin’s 2009 surgery. “I’m very confident that when he gets back on the field he’ll be the same guy we saw [in 2012], and from a mental side we’ll see an even more mature and accurate passing quarterback.”
But here in the Florida Panhandle — where Griffin would stay for another month, taking the first steps in his rehab — he was isolated, far away from his teammates, his fans, and the media, which gave him plenty of time and space to consider all that had transpired. What could he have done differently to prevent this? What did he need to do in the future? What about the coaches and doctors? What were their responsibilities? These were not easy questions, and the answers, he knew, might be impossible to find without some similar soul-searching by the other involved parties and some honest conversations among them all.
The next time the public got a glimpse of Griffin, nearly a month after the surgery, it was the night before the Super Bowl, back in New Orleans, and he was walking — with a slight limp, but without crutches — down the red carpet prior to the NFL honors ceremony, where he would soon be announced as the winner of the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. In several perfunctory interviews along the way, he said he was already ahead of schedule in his rehab and his goal was to be ready for Week 1 in 2013.
“You won’t see the same Robert Griffin. You’ll see a better Robert Griffin,” he told one interviewer.
But the most revealing interview was carried on the Redskins’ own video channel. There he said, “There’s a few things in that [playoff] game that we wish we had done differently, and I’ll talk to Coach [Mike Shanahan] about that when I get back [to Virginia]. We’ll have that conversation. It’s a conversation that needs to be had. ... I’ll do my part to make sure that I stay healthy and keep myself out of harm’s way, while at the same time making sure the coaches do the same.”
Griffin’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award that night, which he won by a significant margin over runner-up Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts, was an opportunity to ponder, one more time, everything Griffin had accomplished in 2012. That there had been any debate at all over who deserved the award — Griffin, Luck and Seattle’s Russell Wilson were the front-runners — was stunning. Really, when you lead the entire NFL in both yards per pass attempt and yards per rush attempt, becoming the first player in history to lead the league in both, in your rookie year, what more is there to say?
When Griffin’s name was called for the award, he climbed the steps to the stage, looked out at the crowd, and put the moment in the sort of context that only an NFL player/warrior could provide: “Sometimes,” he said, “it’s not what you get for your team, it’s what you’re willing to give for them.”
Griffin had given plenty for the Redskins, as the scars beneath his suit-pants would attest, and now he would be justified in wondering — even if he was too loyal and discreet to say so publicly — what the Redskins were willing to give for him.
As the NFL off-season crept by, Griffin remained largely underground, at least in terms of media availability. His thoughts about his injury and his recovery remained mostly a mystery. But on every side of the question, the early part of spring in 2013 seemed to be a time for some subtle jostling for position on the issue, in advance of the media crush that was certain to greet the beginning of off-season workouts at Redskins Park in April and May.
In an ESPN.com interview in late March, James Andrews, the Redskins’ team orthopedist who had overseen Griffin’s surgery, said that Griffin’s recovery “has been unbelievable so far” and that Griffin “is one of those superhumans” for whom normal recovery timetables don’t apply. He compared Griffin to Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings’ great running back, whose ACL surgery Andrews had performed in December 2011 and who not only made it back for the 2012 season but wound up being the league’s MVP. It would have been easy to accuse Andrews of unfairly raising expectations for Griffin’s return, except that Griffin himself had been doing the same thing for some time, via an Adidas advertising campaign titled “All in for Week 1.”
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, too, appeared to be staking out his position when he told reporters at the NFL’s annual owners’ meetings in Phoenix in late March that Griffin would need to learn how to slide and get out of bounds better than he had in 2012 if he wanted to avoid injury.
“You go from the collegiate level to the professional level, [and] you don’t realize the speed of these guys, and he took a lot of unnecessary hits,” Shanahan told reporters. “But he’ll look at film and protect himself, and I think it will be a drastic change from one year to the next.” Shanahan also reaffirmed the Redskins’ commitment to running the zone-read option with Griffin in 2013, arguing, as he had before, that it actually kept him safer by slowing down the pass rush.
“My first NFL season and my injury that ended it showed me a lot about the league, my team and myself. I know where my responsibility is within the dilemma that led to me having surgery to repair my knee and all parties involved know their responsibilities as well.” Robert Griffin III
That was the context for the statement Griffin released through the Redskins on March 27, reiterating his hope to be ready for Week 1, but vowing not to return until he was healthy. Within the same statement, however, he also made a cryptic reference to what happened in the Seattle game and what it would mean going forward.
“My first NFL season and my injury that ended it showed me a lot about the league, my team and myself,” he said. “I know where my responsibility is within the dilemma that led to me having surgery to repair my knee and all parties involved know their responsibilities as well.”
It was difficult to read Griffin’s statement and not see some sort of disconnect between the player and the team. But where was the disconnect? Griffin had already absolved everyone of responsibility for keeping him in the fateful Seattle game, and people close to him, well after the fact, had said he still harbored no regrets over staying on the field.