After just one game, Robert Griffin III hovers on the edge of that category, but does not achieve it yet. The Redskins’ rookie quarterback remains on the second tier of young athletes for whom we must wait a little longer, though maybe no more than a few months, to know where he stands.
Griffin plays a position in a sport that does not allow instant certainty but teases and delights us with the probability that we’re watching history. No quarterback answers all questions in a day, though RGIII came closer last Sunday than anyone I’ve ever seen.
Anticipation and imagination both sold Griffin short. Sonny Jurgensen called his debut the best he’d ever seen by an NFL quarterback. John Madden called him the NFL’s best player in Week 1. Steve Mariucci called him the most athletic quarterback ever. My Monday a.m. impression (blush) was that Griffin would become the most important Redskins player since Sammy Baugh. That may sound grander than it is. The Redskins’ best teams rank higher than their best stars, with Larry Brown, Joe Theismann and kicker Mark Moseley their only MVPs. Jurgensen’s own decade may be the high bar to leap.
Who are the superstars on Day One? As soon as Shaquille O’Neal hit the NBA, you knew his agile-giant talent would translate. Nobody was going to stop his 7 feet 1 inches and 325 pounds. The first day Charles Barkley ever saw Shaq, he said to me, “Come over here. You have to see this. Me standing next to him is like you standing next to me.”
The first time the big-league world saw Stephen Strasburg strike out 14 Pirates in his debut, no one said, “Pittsburgh’s a lousy team.” The universal shout was, “Holy hell!” The Strasburg verdict was actually delivered when Ivan Rodriguez caught him in spring training and told coach Steve McCatty he most resembled “Nolan.” As in Ryan.
Griffin may end up ranked as high or higher. But we’re not allowed to know quite yet. Like Bryce Harper at 19, or Alex Ovechkin as a 105-point 20-year-old NHL rookie, we have to watch Griffin and the NFL cross-examine each other. Defenses learn to read quarterback tendencies the way pitchers get a book on hitters or hockey goalies study the shooting patterns of scorers.
The NFL probably isn’t going to have any better luck scrambling Griffin’s wires than the NHL had with two-time MVP Ovechkin or MLB is having now with a hot Harper. (Okay, I confess. I doubted D.C. would ever have four stars as remarkable as Griffin, Strasburg, Ovechkin and Harper to compare to each other. It’s our turn to show off.)