Matt Harding acquired his Robert Griffin III license plate four weeks into the quarterback’s rookie season. The response was everything you could hope for from a vanity license plate.
Redskins fans honked when they passed his RG3OVI Virginia model, which paid tribute to his two favorite players on his two favorite teams. Dozens took photos. Strangers posted images on social media. From Dale City to Centreville to Manassas, everywhere he went he drew acclaim. He even earned honks and waves from strangers in Redskins gear during a trip to Georgia.
“It really didn’t matter where I was,” Harding said this week. “People were going nuts.”
And since then?
“It’s been hell,” Harding said. “I get laughed at now, told I need to change my license plate again. It’s the polar opposite of what it was when I originally got it.”
Harding’s story, if you can believe it, is not unique. A nearly identical transformation has haunted Pete Grumbles and his RG3SKIN Mississippi plates. Ditto David Schwab and his RG3RUNDC North Carolina plates. And Michael Costa and his RG3 MVP Ohio plates. And Scott Finn and his HTTR 10 Pennsylvania plates.
These men bought RGIII stock early, often before he had played a single NFL game. They reaped the rewards during a glorious 2012: laughs, thumbs-up, waves, cheers. Griffin mania was unchecked, and they were a part of it.
“I would text my brother and say ‘I am soooo popular’ — he knew that meant someone was taking a picture of the plate,” wrote Sara Carson of her RG3SKNS Pennsylvania plate. “One guy went crazy on the highway one day, and it caught my son and I off guard, but he was so excited about my plate.”
But now that the stock has plummeted and the mania has subsided, the cheers have been replaced by jokes and taunts.
“After that first year, people started laughing and pointing,” said Dan Rodriguez, who replaced his Virginia WWRG3D plates when he recently moved to Florida.
“You should hear how much [grief] I get at work — ‘you jinxed your team, you blew it, you shouldn’t have gotten that license plate,’ ” Costa said.
“I’m going to take it down — it’s just too shameful,” Grumbles said. “I’m upset, man. I just feel like I bought into this, and I got shorted, basically.”
That feeling is hardly universal. I communicated with 10 fans who had RGIII-inspired vanity plates this week; there are dozens and dozens more. Some feel like Griffin is a bust and their plates obsolete. Others insist the coaching staff and fan base has pulled the plug far too quickly, that the story isn’t yet over, that Griffin remains Washington’s best hope. Harding even said he hopes the quarterback finds a new team.
“I don’t think he is the problem; I think we are the problem, the Redskins organization,” he said. “The team is a cancer to him. … I’m buying his jersey no matter where he goes. He’s a really good dude, and I love rooting for the guy. I don’t understand why this town turned on him. We hated Albert Haynesworth for laying on the ground and not playing; why are we hating a guy who wants to play and play hard and play hurt? I don’t get it.”
“Hell yeah I still take pride in that license plate,” said Costa, a Southern California native who now lives near Cleveland. “I’m just praying to God that somehow the organization doesn’t give up on him, they stick with it and let him have another offseason of actually doing what he needs to do.”
“I still have faith in RG3,” added Ryan Petersen, who signed up for his HTTRG3 Virginia plates nearly a month before Griffin was drafted.
Regardless of how they feel about him now, these folks all knew their why in 2012, when they were navigating DMV Web sites. This was a franchise quarterback, something Washington hadn’t seen in 25 years. He was likable and fan-friendly, someone everyone adored. Plus his nickname could fit oh-so-easily onto a license plate.
“That season, everything was fun with the Skins,” said Tuan Nguyen, who reserved his pirate-inspired ARRRG3 Virginia plate before the Redskins even drafted Griffin.
“I got on the hype train,” Rodriguez said.
“The Redskins finally had a potential franchise quarterback,” Petersen wrote. “When the team was doing well, it felt really good. Everyone seemed really friendly, and it felt like the city was coming together.”
Now, of course, things are coming apart. Some of the vanity plate holders have had friends mockingly suggest they get Colt McCoy or Kirk Cousins license plates. Others have endured the glee of Cowboys and Eagles fans. Still others have admitted defeat. Nguyen got a new car and never transferred his ARRRG3 plates; they’re now souvenirs in his basement. Gonzalez has one of his plates hanging in his man cave, and offered the other to me. Steven Ellis is still using his RG3IUS Virginia plates on his Prius, but said they are probably destined for his garage. Carson took the RG3 SKNS plates off her car when it was vandalized.
“When I see the plate hanging in my Redskins basement,” she wrote, “I feel disappointment.”
And some of those who haven’t yet made a change suspect that day is approaching.
“It’ll definitely be coming down, probably before the coming draft,” Schwab said of his RG3RUNDC plates. “I still appreciate it and I still appreciate what he did for us for a year. I’ll never regret getting the license plate. But I wish I would have gotten a different jersey.”
In fact, no one that I talked to regretted their initial decision, and no one regretted the enthusiasm of 2012. For a few weeks there, Griffin was among the best quarterbacks in the world, the Redskins couldn’t be stopped, and everything really did seem swell.
“You know what, if you can’t have fun with your team, then what’s the point?” Costa asked.
“Even after everything that happened, I would still do it,” Rodriguez agreed. “You’ve got to ride the wave when it happens. It doesn’t come around all that often.”
“Obviously I was ahead of the curve when I ordered the plates,” joked Grumbles, one of many who signed up for RGIII plates before Griffin’s first pass. “I think we all had that sense of hope, so I don’t regret it. But I do regret renewing it.”