Griffin has ascended to the team’s top leadership position almost as quickly as he joined the ranks of the NFL’s most exciting quarterbacks. He was elected one of the six team captains after the bye week. Then he backed up his big talk with follow-me performances that helped the Redskins climb back into the division race. Griffin’s all-around take-charge approach is almost unheard of for a first-year player, let alone a 22-year-old playing football’s most difficult position. But he’s pulling it off — without making enemies.
“I’ve never been part of anything like this,” said tight end Chris Cooley, a nine-year veteran. “You just don’t see rookies come in and do what he’s doing, and I’m not even talking about the stuff on the field, which is incredible.
“I don’t think you could find one guy in here who doesn’t believe in him and believe in what he says. The way he came in here and was able to relate to guys who have been here for years, and to be so comfortable doing it, and to make guys feel like they should [follow him] . . . I’m just totally blown away.”
Cooley is among many in awe of Griffin as much for his interpersonal skills as for the gifts he displays with a football in his hands. Griffin projects confidence when he speaks. He exudes authority in his actions. Everything he does seems intended show he’s got it all under control.
On draft night in April, Griffin, through individual text messages, introduced himself to last season’s starting offensive linemen. Just a little personal touch to begin establishing relationships with the guys he needs most. “Little things like that add up when you’re talking about believing in a guy,” left tackle Trent Williams said.
Griffin also reached out to team leaders such as Cooley, linebacker London Fletcher and wide receiver Santana Moss. He assured them that he planned to work as hard as he could to prove himself. “Said what he was gonna do, then he did it,” Moss said. “Can’t help but respect that.”
Rookies in professional team sports are supposed to act like well-behaved children: seen and not heard. They’re expected to zip it and learn from the “old heads” on the roster. Even the most celebrated rookies get rapped on the knuckles if they forget their place.
Michael Jordan’s rookie celebrity angered some of his superstar rivals so much that they supposedly conspired against him during the 1985 NBA All-Star Game. In what came to be called the “freeze out” game, Jordan’s teammates on the East squad ignored him on offense. Members of the opposing West team played harder on defense against him than players usually do in the glorified exhibition. Jordan finished with only seven points and shot 2 for 9. He also never forgot the shabby treatment and spent the rest of his career terrorizing the league.