Robert Griffin III did his fifth and final interview on the floor of the old stadium, the lights turned down low, the place empty and silent, the scoreboard over his left shoulder still glowing with the stunning final score: Redskins 40, Saints 32. Griffin answered the final questions with a smile on his face, twirling in his hands the game ball commemorating his first NFL touchdown.
“It was definitely a storybook ending for my first game,” he said.
There are all sorts of ways you could quantify what Griffin, 22, accomplished Sunday afternoon in his NFL debut, from the cold statistics that measure a quarterback — his 19 completions in 26 attempts, his 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, his 139.9 passer rating – to the historical context: No quarterback in history had ever thrown for 300 or more yards in winning his NFL debut.
But all you really had to do to understand Sunday’s import was trust your eyes, because what your eyes told you was this: The Redskins simply have not witnessed anything like this game in a long, long time, and have never witnessed anyone like Griffin – fast and agile and smart, with an arm like a rocket-launcher -- in roughly forever.
If Washington was already gripped by RGIII fever, the anticipation building all summer for the debut of the most heavily hyped rookie quarterback in franchise history, what will become of the region now – after Griffin led the Redskins to a season-opening upset victory that felt like the start of some new era?
Playing for the first time in his ancestral hometown – where both his parents were born and raised, where he spent many a Christmas and where he lived for 14 months as a child – Griffin carved up the Saints’ defense with a combination of crisp passes and crafty runs. He outplayed a six-time Pro Bowl quarterback, New Orleans’s Drew Brees, who last year set an all-time NFL record for passing yards.
After the game, Brees waited near midfield as Redskins officials retrieved Griffin from the Washington sideline, where he was standing on the bench pointing and smiling at the hundreds of Redskins fans gathered near the railing. When Griffin finally made his way to Brees’s side, the veteran grabbed him around the neck and whispered into his ear.
“He told me he was proud of me,” Griffin said later. “That’s big of him to say that after they’d just lost the game.”
It was simply not a performance, or a victory, that one could envision being authored by Rex Grossman or John Beck – the two quarterbacks who shared the Redskins’ duties in 2011, neither of whom wore an NFL uniform for Week 1. It was not something an aging Donovan McNabb could have done in 2010.