Can an entire city have knee surgery?
The civic joint pain was tangible Wednesday as Washington fixated on the Florida operating room where quarterback Robert Griffin III was having his right knee rebuilt. From firehouses to park benches, on the streets and in their tweets, the unexpectedly swift and extensive operation had fans worrying, praying ... and talking, talking, talking.
“All day long, we’ve been talking about the knee,” said Erskine Gregory, 66, a retired union laborer hanging out with a group of guys near the Dupont Circle chessboards. He stepped away to get a quick break from a noisy boom box and the even noisier who-to-blame debate. (“They should have let the white boy play the fourth quarter,” shouted Nenja Garrett, 38, a cook from Southeast Washington. “Cousins is a good quarterback. That knee is on their hands.”)
The chatter was all ligaments and tendons as fans, following the medical news suture by suture, unleashed their inner orthopedists.
“Do we know if it was the ACL or the LCL?” asked David Smith, 43, a clerk at JR Cigars in downtown Washington, where the air was full of tobacco smoke and surgical gossip.
“As of this morning they were speculating that it was both,” replied his co-worker C.W. Hartmann, 52, his teeth clinched around a smoldering Neerup pipe. “We won’t know more for a couple of hours.”
“He’s a young man. He’ll recuperate,” Smith assured.
The Knee loomed over Washington high and low, black and white, official and unofficial.
At the White House, press secretary and Redskins fan Jay Carney described the constantly repeated image of Griffin’s leg buckling during Sunday’s wild-card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks as “painful to watch.”
A few blocks away, burrito vendor John Rider said every third customer was bringing up Griffin’s surgery. “The overriding sentiment seems to be that they should have taken him out before the second half,” he said from the steam cloud filling his cart near McPherson Square.
Takoma Park firefighter Jesse Sandford said the surgery was the talk of the truck Wednesday morning as the squad returned from a call. He and his fellow EMTs see plenty of sports knee injuries, mostly soccer in that part of Montgomery County, but no one could guess how Griffin would fare.
“We take them in [to the hospitals] but never know how they turn out,” Sanford said. “I think he’s a strong-headed dude; he was going to play whether they wanted him to or not.”
Sports talk radio went All Knee, All The Time, but still couldn’t meet the demand.
“We could take calls on this every second of the day, 24 hours — every line is constantly full,” said Chris Kinard, program director for 106.7 The Fan. The station has stayed with the knee story “pretty much 95 percent of the time” since Griffin’s potentially devastating injury Sunday. “One show ends and the next comes on, and immediately it has full phone lines,” he said. “We don’t even have to tell them what we’re talking about.”
Griffin’s knee figured into every part of Jason Carter’s day. The Seat Pleasant electrician woke his wife with news of the surgery Wednesday soon after dawn.
“Leave me alone,” she said, rolling over.
It was the first topic of conversation when he reached the restaurant he is helping to renovate on 14th Street NW. His supervisor called him twice to ask whether he’d heard any updates from the Florida hospital. Carter checked his cell phone for ESPN updates throughout the day.
“I’m genuinely concerned, not only from a football standpoint but a humanitarian standpoint,” Carter said. “I have mood swings: One minute I think he should have played, the next minute I’m like, ‘How could you let him play?’ ”
At Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street NW, Tal Roberts and Rudolph Kelly sat down for a hot dog lunch. The former friends, both 81, hadn’t seen each other in 35 years, but the talk was still The Knee.
“[Redskins head coach Mike] Shanahan threw him under the bus,” declared Roberts, a retired stockbroker.
“If RGIII had been Shanahan’s son,” Roberts said, “and he was hurt in the first quarter, Shanahan would have taken him out.”
Kelly kept nodding.
As the men left Ben’s, they passed Pat Mitchell, 65, of Columbia Heights, who was sitting in her friend’s car, a Redskins flag fluttering on the roof.
On Tuesday night, Mitchell recalled, as she lay in bed and watched the news about Griffin’s surgery, she closed her eyes and prayed.
“Oh Lord,” she said, “please put your hands on RGIII and the doctors so that his surgery will go well and his healing will go fast.”
At Regency Furniture in Brandywine, sales associates were clustered near the front door, between a bunching curio cabinet and a sofa-love seat combo. The talk at the Prince George’s County store was not exclusively about Griffin’s surgery; they also discussed the poor condition of the field Sunday, the quality of the team doctor and the culpability of the coaching staff.
“We should have pulled RGIII when we were up 14-0,” James Morrow maintained.
Antoine Craft disagreed. “I don’t think we should have pulled him,” he said.
A Dallas Cowboys fan from the store’s sales staff rushed past, providing a momentary diversion.
“Hey, Dallas,” Craft called. “We’re the NFC East champs. And RGIII is coming back.”
“I heard he’s not coming back next year,” Morrow fretted.
“I think it’s a six- to eight-month recovery,” Craft said.
Manager Fela Fuller said Griffin’s injured leg has been a constant topic in recent weeks.
“It’s either the debt ceiling or RG-Knee,” said Fuller. “I’m more worried about the debt ceiling.”
In that, he may have been alone.
David Nakamura contributed to this report.