In early January, my 21 / 2-year-old son and I began having a daily running dialogue about Robert Griffin III, and at that moment, I first realized how one player could transcend not just a sport but every conceptual target-market audience of a network or advertiser.
“Daddy, RGIII got a boo-boo?”
Yes, he did.
He was playing the game, but his knee hurt. He had to fall down so he didn’t get tackled.
“But, but . . . RGIII is good player, right?”
He’s a very good player. He runs fast. He throws to his teammates. And he makes touchdowns for his team.
“Can I kiss his boo-boo and make it all better?”
Uh . . . I think it’s better if RGIII’s mommy does that for him.
My son doesn’t know downs or yardage. He can’t differentiate between calling a timeout and being put in timeout. Beyond using eating utensils, English cucumbers and the dog’s right paw to “play lightsaber,” he knows very little about popular culture.
But he knows RGIII.
He knows Griffin’s parents when he sees them in pictures or on television. He knows his uniform number.
Every time he sees a picture of Griffin in a newspaper or magazine lying around the house, he smiles and whispers his name, as if he belongs to a secret cult.
He also takes part in a nightly ritual of imitation, the ground floor of athletic hero worship.
“I’m RGIII. You be the tackler. Hike!”
He proceeds to skitter around the house like a ferret on caffeine, spiking the ball and hook-sliding in the same motion. (It’s unclear whether these were designed runs or broken plays in which he improvised. Either way, he also blames Kyle.)
In hindsight, I should have sent him out of the room last winter, away from the television set replaying the endless loop of Griffin falling on that rodeo pit of a field in Prince George’s County. A child has no notion how the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments of an elite athlete snapped in a playoff game, after all. But all children understand pain, especially in those they care about.
My son reflexively knew that one of the few players he could distinguish in pads and helmet — the same one he had watched high-stepping toward the end zone, braids trailing in the wind like the tail of a magnificent kite, arms raised after the score — was at that moment on the ground in agony, incapable of running or walking.
The image seemed to hurt my son as much as Griffin’s family.
“Get up! Get up, RGIII!!”
That was January. It is now a week from his third birthday. The boy won’t stop. The images of Griffin planting and throwing in Richmond during his first no-contact day of training camp re-ignited the conversation.
“Daddy, Mommy, RGIII is all better!”
He’s not playing right now. He’s practicing. He hopes to play in the first game in September.
Because he’s still getting better.
I thought about explaining the roles of Mike Shanahan, James Andrews, RGII and “Operation Patience,” but a millisecond later I realized Fred Bowen at KidsPost would have an easier time explaining Johnny Manziel’s offseason to 10-year-olds.
Better to savor the moment, the innocence, when a child’s favorite player is infallible, when even the bad things that happen to him turn out to be good things.
When my son fell down earlier this summer and bloodied his right knee because his father was stupid enough to challenge him in a concrete sidewalk race while he was wearing his Crocs, he found a kinship of sorts.
“But, but, but . . . I have a boo-boo like RGIII too.”
Driving home over this past weekend, my wife and I finally broke the big news to the fan in the car seat: RGIII is playing in the first game. The doctor said he could play.”
(He actually said, “Yeah, baby.” He’s never seen “Austin Powers.” I have no idea where he got it from.)
“C-c-can I go to the game?”
No, it’s too late at night. But maybe when you get older.
“But, but, can RGIII come to my house and I can give him a hug?”
I don’t think that’s going to happen.
“Why? Because he put you in timeout, Daddy?”
Something like that.
“B-b-but, RGIII don’t have a boo-boo anymore?”
No, his boo-boo is all gone.
Then, he pointed to his scabbed-over right knee.
“Look: My boo-boo is all gone too.”
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.