All the major characters came back to FedEx Field, revisiting the scene of January’s crime for the first time Monday night — acting, for the most part, as if a preventable catastrophic knee injury never happened. They took turns smiling, laughing and joking. At one point during the season’s second preseason game, Mike Shanahan told Robert Griffin III to get on the field — jokingly, of course.
Orthopedist James Andrews looked remarkably jovial, relaxed — as if the professional stain of eight months ago was wiped clean. The big news came from the big kahuna. Daniel Snyder told ESPN that Andrews alone would make the call on Griffin’s return — not the headstrong kid, the fool-me-once coach or a shoe-and-apparel company with a catchy marketing slogan.
Strolling around pregame in his “Operation Patience” T-shirt — because while you don’t need “team” to spell RGIII lately, you certainly need an “I” or two (or three) — the man of the hour overshadowed Kirk Cousins leaving on crutches, Rex Grossman shining for a couple quarters and Ryan Kerrigan showing how indispensable he has become in two-plus years.
Operation Patience? Ha.
The Griffin recovery process should be redubbed “Operation Carnival,” everyone doing their hyperbolic best to hike up the drama to a fever pitch until 24 hours before the opener, when we’re all finally assured that Washington’s — nay, the NFL’s — golden child has miraculously recovered after having ligaments reconstructed in his right knee.
Griffin went down on a piece of asphalt-hard, spray-painted dirt in Prince George’s County on Jan. 6, his future in as much agony as doubt. He will rise Sept. 9 from that same field, albeit a version with a better drainage system and sod befitting an NFL team rather than a 4-H club that failed to pay its water bill.
I’m sorry if that sounds jaded, but sometimes the ongoing monotony of RGKnee can do that: just weigh you down and make you pray the opener comes quick.
Shanahan, once the most tight-lipped coach in the NFL when it came to injuries, must just laugh at the absurdity of four different team spokespeople a day talking about his meal ticket’s projected return.
Imagine Tom Coughlin or Bill Belichick clarifying and responding to what Eli Manning or Tom Brady or their owners said, then re-clarifying and re-responding later in the week to ensure everyone was on the same page.
Memo to Operation Carnival: People who are on the same page don’t have news conferences to say they are on the same page unless they are trying to save face over what has been said already.
I hope Griffin comes back healthy Sept. 9 — for his sake. I also hope the right decision is made for the right reasons, which have everything to do with the future health and well-being of the most important figure in franchise history since Joe Gibbs and nothing to do with this take-the-next-step season.
I know some people are betting their mortgages that Griffin starts Sept. 9. (I’d bet Jason Reid, but I’m not a Loudoun County kind of guy). They think this is all a fait accompli and everything counter to Griffin playing opening night is subterfuge. He will take that first snap, come hell or Cousins.
But consider this for just a minute: If the owner means it when he says it’s on the doctor, suddenly this isn’t about the plans and wishes of Shanahan or Griffin or Snyder or 52 other players who know they can’t achieve their professional dreams without No. 10.
It’s about Andrews, who took a serious public flogging for being more of a cheerleader than a medical professional in January and ended up engaging in a convoluted back-and-forth with Shanahan over whether he actually cleared Griffin to play.
Andrews is not judged by wins and losses. He is judged by which of his patients stay fixed and which ones fall apart. He didn’t concoct an ad campaign called, “All in for Week 1.” He works with myriad teams and athletes, and if his brand is going to remain bigger than the other miracle workers in his profession, Andrews has got to get this one right. Never will he be more scrutinized or second-guessed if Griffin plays and that knee blows up.
It’s only human nature that Andrews would factor in the criticism he received for his supposed role in Griffin’s injury with all the hard data and eye tests that go along with his usually sound medical diagnosis. Will that result in him holding Griffin out till Week 3, 4 or 5? If it really is his call, that has to be a possibility.
There, I’ve done my part to heighten the intrigue.
For what it’s worth, Monday night had a festive, regular season quality to it, part of it brought on by a good turnout of Steelers fans and much of it brought it on by some nails defense from Washington and a plethora of big plays.
Everyone knew Griffin wasn’t going to play, but there seemed to be almost a catharsis going on, just seeing No. 10 taking the field for warmups with teammates, knowing he eventually will get back on the field.
Remnants from eight months ago remained because of the return-date drama, none more than Snyder’s little bombshell and the admission by the organization that Andrews has yet to clear Griffin for Week 1.
Part of you thought, “Great. Way to man-up and trust the leading knee specialist in sports.” Another part thought, “Now they’re saying, ‘Doctor’s orders? What, January was too early?’ ”
But that’s all useless hindsight now, grist for another day. Monday was exactly three weeks from opening night. The Eagles, who have had their way with Washington at FedEx Field in recent years, won’t be more ripe for the taking than they will be Week 1, with a neophyte NFL coach implementing an offense one baby step at a time.
But if you believe Andrews really is making this call and really isn’t sure yet, Chip Kelly has at least one advantage over Mike Shanahan: He knows who his opening-night starting quarterback is going to be.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
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