Griffin’s father estimated the family knew more than 1,000 of the 90,166 fans who ultimately attended the Cowboys game, and sure enough, as the younger Griffin did his traditional pregame lap around the field, he had to stop every 20 feet or so to greet another familiar face.
One of them was David Windham, a former football player who appeared in three games as a replacement player for the Redskins during the strike-shortened 1987 season, and a family friend of the Griffins whose daughters ran for Robert Griffin Jr.’s youth track team in Copperas Cove.
“I remember the first time I met Robert,” Windham said of the younger Griffin. “He was 12 years old, and it was at a track meet. I immediately called up all my friends and my brothers and said, ‘I just saw the next world’s greatest athlete.’ This kid was destined for stardom. He was doing all the events back then — high jump, long jump, hurdles — and was winning all of them.
“I asked him, ‘Son, what do you want to be when you grow up?’ He said, ‘It’s not about what I want to be, sir — it’s what I will be. I will be an NFL quarterback, and I will be a lawyer.’ ”
On the sideline during warmups, Griffin’s family soaked in the atmosphere.
There was little Jania, his 4-year-old niece, wearing a Redskins cheerleader skirt and buttons bearing her uncle’s likeness. There was his mother, Jackie, sitting on the turf with Jania in her lap. There was his father, Robert Jr., studying his son’s mechanics as he unleashed practice throws and checking his own cellphone, which was blowing up with text messages from friends inside the building and out. For a while, Robert Jr. was toting around Jania’s Dora the Explorer stuffed doll, itself clad in a tiny Redskins hoodie.
Before departing the field, Robert came over for a kiss (from Mom), a hug (from Dad) and a fist-bump (from Jania). Jania wanted more time with her uncle, and ran crying into her grandmother’s arms when Griffin ran off toward the tunnel leading to the Redskins’ locker room.
“Go out there,” Shanahan told Griffin just before kickoff, “and be you.”
Later, in their seats as the first half played out, with the Redskins surging to a 28-3 lead, Griffin’s parents looked at each other in amazement as the boos of disgruntled Cowboys fans melted into chants of “R-G-3!” Had a visiting player ever heard his name chanted at Jerry Jones’s football palace? No one could recall another example.
After the game, with the Redskins holding on for the victory, Griffin emerged from the Redskins’ locker room and hustled down a corridor toward a group of hundreds of fans, signing their autographs with astonishing efficiency.