Donovan McNabb tried to reach out to Robert Griffin III last season. He never heard back, which a lot of six-time Pro Bowlers might take as being big-timed. Not McNabb.
“I don’t blame him,” he said. “Someone on his end was supposed to link us up, and it never happened. No big deal. But I would like to sit down with him. I’d actually like me and my dad to sit down with RG and his dad.”
McNabb, who played in five NFC championship games and a Super Bowl before his one forgettable year in Washington, is someone Griffin should hear from. It won’t be one of those I-told-you-so spiels about playing for the Shanahans. (“Come on. I’m beyond that. I even gave Mike credit for what he did last season,” he said.) Or a generation-gap rant from an envious former star. (“Everybody I played with wanted a commercial, too,” he said. “We all wanted to be Michael Jordan. I’m happy for that part of his career.”)
No. Just a simple “What the Young Fella Needs to Know” conversation from one of his biggest fans, a guy who is unafraid to tell Griffin what he needs to hear instead of what he wants to hear.
“It’s too much right now; it’s just too much,” McNabb said, speaking from his home in Arizona. “I get some of things he’s doing to draw attention to himself: the Adidas commercials, going out and enjoying the life of a young, famous NFL quarterback. I understand RG has a lot of stuff going on.
“But if you’re coming off ACL surgery, you don’t need to be having a press conference at OTAs. Every week? Really? It becomes a circus, a sideshow. It takes away from the focus of what those sessions are supposed to be about: the team.”
“One thing Andy Reid did is he never let the injured guys become the story if they were off to the side at practice,” McNabb added, referring to the former Eagles coach. “He thought it took away from the guys who were grinding and practicing every day.
“So when I look up on TV and see him up there talking all the time about how great he’s doing — or doing jumping jacks or someone else talking about his supernatural healing powers — I wonder to myself: Is this about selling tickets to the fans or what?
“I don’t blame him. They’re letting him do it. But at some point, it can be counterproductive. You can set yourself up for more criticism later.”
McNabb’s biggest fear for Griffin is fans and media will expect too much from him following major knee reconstruction.
“Especially if Robert doesn’t play at first or isn’t right for the first eight weeks and it takes a while for him to become the player he was,” he said. “So what if you start 2-6 or 3-5? Then everybody wonders what happened, starts thinking, ‘But wait, you told us he was great a few months ago. He told us he was great.’ ”
There are other dangers, too, McNabb said, when everyone hangs on an uber-popular athlete’s every word — or, for that matter, his parents’ every word.
When Robert Griffin II warned Shanahan, via The Post and WJLA (Channel 7), that his son needs to pass more — “he doesn’t have to be a runner as much as I saw last year. . . . I’m his dad — I want him throwing that football, a lot. A lot.” — McNabb wished he hadn’t.
“His dad should have never done a one-on-one interview like that,” he said. “You can’t say what he said because it almost undermines his son, who has to answer all the questions about it later. Now, we all know what he said was right. But that’s something you voice behind closed doors because otherwise it creates a wedge that didn’t have to be there. No team needs those kinds of things hovering over them.
“Like I said, I would really like for me and my dad to sit down with he and his dad just to tell them what we went through and talk about our experiences.”
McNabb said he likes Griffin talking about his development as a quarterback, what he wants to accomplish in the position, as opposed to last season when “there were times he sounded like a robot, programmed to be whoever they wanted him to be,” he said. “It’s important for him he lets people know what he thinks is best for him.”
He doesn’t even worry about the jet-setting star who attended big event after big event in the NFL offseason. The Vanity Fair/Bloomberg White House Correspondents’ after-party one weekend, the Kentucky Derby the next, serving as grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade this past weekend.
But McNabb is also concerned about Griffin’s handling of other situations — such as, yes, he and his fiance’s wedding registry at Bed, Bath &Beyond bought up by fans.
“You don’t just send the gifts back, because that’s not right in its own way,” McNabb said. “But you also don’t take a picture with all the gifts people sent you from your wedding registry and then tweet it out. It’s almost like throwing it in the people’s face that bought you things. They see that photo and think, ‘What did I buy him something for? He didn’t need it with all these other people sending him things.’ ”
“When that happens, it just looks like rich people receiving things from the poor. I know his intention wasn’t that, but it’s the perception people take from it. It’s disrespectful. You just don’t do that.”
McNabb knows this might come across as a still-scarred former player who didn’t get the respect he deserved from Shanahan at the end of his career. But it’s much deeper than that.
“Look, I say these things because I’m a big fan of his,” McNabb said. “I want to see him play and do well for years to come. He is the future. Everybody — I mean, everybody — is talking about him.
“I just don’t want him to draw attention to himself in the wrong ways when he doesn’t need to. I’ve talked to Russell Wilson many times. We’ve had some great conversations. I know what it’s like to be young, good and have the world looking at you.
“My advice to any young quarterback off the top is this: You got spare time, spend it getting to know your teammates off the field. I used to invite mine to Arizona to train with me in the offseasons. Whatever you need to do, get to know them as a person, not just a player. Because that trust is all you have on Sundays.”
If he doesn’t already, that’s what the young fella needs to know.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.