Just when the NFL needed a controversy-free story line to distract from talk about the national anthem, Colin Kaepernick and his Nike contract, up steps rookie Shaquem Griffin, who will become the first one-handed player to appear in an NFL game in the Seattle Seahawks’ season opener Sunday against the Denver Broncos. And he’ll be a starter.
It’s another heartwarming moment for the linebacker, whose left hand was amputated when he was a child because of a prenatal condition. Griffin, whose twin brother Shaquill is the Seahawks’ starting left cornerback, got the start with K.J. Wright likely to miss time recovering from knee surgery. Starting a regular-season game is an amazing accomplishment to everyone but Shaquem, who told The Post’s Kent Babb last April that “people all get tackled the same.”
He wasn’t initially invited to the league’s combine, but he became a social media sensation and wowed coaches by bench-pressing 225 pounds 20 times (wearing a prosthesis he will not use in games) and running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash that was faster than any linebacker in 15 years (and identical to his brother’s time the year before). Now, in addition to starting, he also is part of the Nike ad campaign that features Kaepernick and other athletes and is centered on the phrase, “Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they’re crazy enough.”
Shaquem, the younger twin by 60 seconds, required surgery because of the Amniotic Band Syndrome his mother suffered while pregnant, causing an amniotic membrane to wrap around his hand. “It’s a thin tissue you can barely see,” his mother, Tangie, told the Los Angeles Times. “The doctor answered the questions and explained the options. It could be taken off with a needle [during pregnancy], but even the slightest move could have punctured [either of the twins] and it was possible one wouldn’t survive. I was not going to take that chance.”
When his fingers were touched or pressured, he experienced serious pain that led to the moment when his mother found him attempting to amputate his hand with a knife at the age of 4. Once surgery was performed, he never looked back. The day after surgery, he was playing football again with his “bandage just dripping blood,”according to his mother.
“I didn’t care, I was going to play football regardless,” he told the Times. “It was tough until I had my fingers removed, but after that I knew I was going to play again. The pain was gone. … It didn’t hurt when the ball hit.”
Like his brother, Shaquem attended Central Florida. A fifth-round draft pick (141st overall), he led the team with 14 solo tackles (24 total) and had one for a loss. As recently as a couple of years ago, the brothers had never spent more than a night apart and that relationship has helped Shaquem adjust quickly to pro football.
“They ground off of each other, they fit off of each other so well, and they own up to each other really well,” Coach Pete Carroll said (via ESPN), confirming in a news conference that Shaquem would start. “Shaquill will just tell him flat-out what he needs to tell him. They don’t mince any words at all. I think with that, he has as much support as he’s going to need. I think he’ll be able to handle it.”
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