The 13-year-old kid is supposed to be the one who doesn’t know what to say when he meets the famous NFL quarterback. When Rico Felix met Robert Griffin III on Wednesday afternoon, the roles got switched.
“I’m going to say his exact words — I’m speechless,” Rico recalled on Thursday, while sitting in his Northwest D.C. living room. “That’s exactly what he said. I’m lost for words.”
Rico you see, had just showed Griffin his prosthetic leg, the one emblazoned with an image of the quarterback’s face. After he gathered his thoughts and signed Rico’s prosthetic with a Sharpie, the quarterback then found some words.
“He said it’s an honor for me to have his picture on my leg,” Rico told me. “He said he was going to dedicate this whole season to me. That was pretty big.”
(“To think that someone would think that much of me to put it on their leg, I don’t know what I can say about that,” Griffin told the team’s Web site. “It’s an honor.”)
Felix is a lifelong Redskins fan, who loves playing football himself. His prosthetic supplier — Hanger Clinic in Fort Totten — told his mom she just needed to bring a T-shirt with images of Rico’s favorite characters and they would take care of the rest. His previous prosthetic featured pro wrestlers Triple H, John Cena and CM Punk, but when he was choosing his replacement last fall, he wanted a change.
“He said mama, I’d like to get RGIII’s picture on there,” recalled his mom, Michele Diggs. “He loves, loves, loves, loves sports.”
That means playing sports, as well as watching. When he was born on Thanksgiving in 1999, Rico’s umbilical cord was wrapped around his leg, stopping circulation below his knee and requiring the prosthetic. He has to have surgery about every two years to clip the still-growing bone until around the age of 18, and he also has to replace the prosthetic as he grows.
The surgery and rehab is painful, and Rico said he had a new inspiration for his latest recovery, which ended toward the end of winter, several weeks earlier than planned.
“After Robert had his knee surgery, that reminded me of me, how he came back,” Rico said. “He just came back full force. That’s tough to do. It’s really inspiring, and that’s what inspired me to recover quicker than expected.”
As for this week’s trip to Richmond, Rico’s mother and a family friend had been in touch with the team and with several local media outlets, leading to a VIP invitation to Wednesday’s session. They spent four hours in Richmond and were blown away by the experience. Redskins spokesman Tony Wyllie brought Rico on the field toward the end of practice. He introduced him to Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, among others. Rico was given the ball the team had practiced with, which several players — including Griffin — signed.
He talked at length with Joshua Morgan, who played Rico some of the Wale he was listening to on his Beats By Dre headphones. (Morgan wound up texting Wyllie and asking for Rico’s address, because he wanted to send the teenager a pair of his own Beats.)
“I met Sav Rocca too — he was huge and intimidating,” Rico pointed out. “He could break your arm by shaking your hand.”
Both Rico and his mom also talked to Griffin’s mother, who repeatedly referred to Rico as an angel.
“I was just overwhelmed,” Diggs told me. “The whole Redskins team, they are phenomenal. They were so nice to Rico and I, so very nice.”
The whole experience, Diggs said, fits into her lifelong advice to Rico, to turn a disadvantage into an advantage. Despite his prosthetic, he plays football and skateboards — going hard enough that he’s broken off the foot of a prosthetic. He plays basketball and “swims like a fish,” according to his mom, and is hoping to get into karate.
Which isn’t to say they don’t have challenges. Diggs, who formerly worked as a third-party monitor for Peaceoholics and as a corrections officer at Oak Hill, said she lost her job about a year ago, and subsequently lost her car. Rico’s leg causes pain if he walks too far, and without a car, Diggs said she’s struggled to get Rico to the many activities he wants to pursue, and doesn’t know how to get him to the karate class he wants to take in Tenleytown. She said she asked the city for assistance with transportation, but was told Rico doesn’t qualify.
Still, this week was something to remember. After waking up from a nap during the car ride home on Wednesday, “it hit me — I met Robert Griffin III,” Rico said.
“Mama, I made history today,” he told his mother. “Nobody ever had a prosthetic with RGIII before.”
He slept with the autographed football Wednesday night, and proudly showed off his autographed leg to neighbors Thursday afternoon.
“That’s one of the best days of my life, besides me being born,” he said. “Pretty amazing.”