Only one person usually says, “Enough” to a star quarterback who wants to continue: the coach. And in close playoff games, they seldom do.
But rarely is that quarterback 22 years old, the face of the franchise and relentlessly driven to prove his courage. If ever a veteran coach needed to accept responsibility for the reins of a player, it was Mike Shanahan over Griffin in this game. Yet he simply passed the buck to his player. Griffin said he could play, was in pain but wasn’t injured and had earned the right to be the quarterback — all the sideline buzzwords to keep yourself in the game. And Shanahan listened and bought it. Soon, we’ll find out the price.
Griffin entered the game recovering from one month-old knee injury, playing in a big brace. Before the end of the first quarter, he had reinjured it and, in the process, lost almost all of his mobility and become completely ineffective. The Redskins led 14-0 when he hurt himself. Griffin passed for just 25 yards the rest of the day.
Then, still in the game in the fourth quarter with the Redskins trailing 21-14, Griffin collapsed in a gruesome heap near the Redskins goal line while merely trying to bend over to pick up his own fumble. He lay there for several minutes. Replays showed his knee twisting in grotesque directions.
Then he eventually walked gingerly off the field and even walked to a lectern afterward to answer questions. After you’ve watched knee injuries for decades, this often means one of two things: Griffin’s dodged a bullet, thanks to his amazing strength, flexibility and some luck. Or the MRI exam will tell a very different truth.
If Griffin is basically okay, all of this probably will blow over, everyone will congratulate RGIII on his play-with-pain courage and Shanahan, in the future, might say he needs to factor RGIII’s extreme “stubbornness and competitiveness” into his decisions on whether to let him stay in games.
If Griffin has a major injury, even if he is entirely able to recover from, then the sight of Griffin staggering through this game like a defenseless one-legged man, and the playoff-blood-pact between coach and quarterback may go down as one of the sport’s most remarkably stupid macho decisions.
So, the stakes aren’t too high. Sports is a strange world where everybody agrees to rewrite history after the MRI comes back.
Few, except those who have actually played in the NFL, have any idea of the pain, the danger, the level of semi-injury and risk of disability that runs through the sport at every instant. Fairly recent studies of concussions are just improving the focus on a huge range of brutalities. What the rest of us would consider a nightmare is the NFL’s normal. What we see as almost insane, they view as necessary, perhaps not much more than the minimum requirement.