Though the circumstances were far from ideal, Jacqueline and Robert Jr. were comfortable sending their children to stay in Iberville because of who was running the household. Irene Griffin, known as “Mami” to all her grandchildren, had raised eight kids in the projects — largely on her own, because her husband, Robert Griffin Sr., had gone blind from glaucoma in his 30s before passing away at the age of 43 from a brain aneurysm.
On Sundays, the Griffins would all pile into the parents’ bed — “Everyone had their assigned spot on the bed,” Rodney Griffin said — to watch football on the only working TV in the house. They were all Saints fans, of course, but in those days the Saints were so bad, everyone had a secondary team they rooted for.
Irene Griffin’s team was the Redskins.
“There was something about the way they were called the ‘Over the Hill Gang’ that I liked,” she said.
This March, when the Redskins traded four draft picks to the St. Louis Rams for the rights to the No. 2 overall pick in the April draft — with the intent of picking Robert Griffin III — Shane Griffin called his mom and said, “Guess who might get drafted by your team?”
“She said, ‘I remember when Vince Lombardi coached that team,’ ” Shane Griffin said. “And I said, ‘Vince Lombardi? He never coached the Redskins.’ So I Googled it, and sure enough the last year he coached was with the Redskins.”
‘A bunch of Robert Griffins’
To get to the final resting place of Robert Griffin Sr., head east out of town to Resthaven Memorial Park, and park alongside Old Gentilly Road. Walk along the northern edge of the cemetery, through marshy grass that sucks at your shoes, and start looking carefully. There’s not much to give away its presence.
Some of New Orleans’s cemeteries are popular tourist attractions, famed for their above-ground tombs with ornate headstones, and for the legends of voodoo queens and ghosts said to inhabit them. Resthaven is not one of those cemeteries.
Robert Griffin Sr.’s gravestone is a simple plaque, partially covered in a layer of dust and grass clippings: “IN LOVING MEMORY / HUSBAND AND FATHER / ROBERT L. GRIFFIN / SEPT. 17, 1941 / SEPT. 27, 1984,” it says simply.
He was a hard man, a tough man, with big hands that could seemingly put together or tear down anything. Asked if his father gave preferential treatment to Robert Jr., by virtue of his being his namesake, Rodney Griffin said, “No, he was equally hard on all of us.”
Until the glaucoma forced him to stop working, his mood varied according to how close it was to payday. “When he told us he was going to the bank,” Robert Jr. said, “that was a great day for us.”
Robert Griffin Sr. never asked for much of anything. But before he died, he made one firm request of his oldest son: Name your first-born son Robert. Keep the line going.