We are going to take Mike Shanahan apart today as if he’s some unfeeling, win-at-all-costs mercenary who should’ve taken Robert Griffin III out of the game long before his quarterback lay on the ground in agony.
And, I’m sorry, it’s not that easy.
Not in a culture that portrays Byron Leftwich’s Marshall teammates carrying him downfield after completing a pass — because he cannot walk — as an heirloom of on-field courage.
Really, the same people who say South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney’s brain-rattling, medieval hit last week are why they watch football now want to call out Shanahan for his callous insensitivity?
No. You want to take aim at someone, take aim at a world that still celebrates an arthritic, injured man taking the floor in Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 1970 as the single, greatest, gut-it-out moment in sports history — while not for one minute asking how bad Willis Reed’s osteoporosis is today and if he could have changed one moment from that night would he? (“No,” he told me five years ago. “I’d take all the mangled fingers that I have and the bad bones and joints for that moment.”)
We want our athletic heroes to leave it all out on the field, but the moment we get the face of the franchise face-down, unable to move — the moment we get Earl Campbell in a motorized wheelchair, unable to walk — we want to know what barbarian did this to him.
We can fight over this one forever, whether Shanahan should have left Griffin in the game, why James Andrews even shows up on the sideline if he doesn’t have the power to say, outright, “Don’t put him back in there.”
But let’s be clear: This is how it was always going to end.
Griffin on the ground in agony, Shanahan seeing his worst nightmare unfold — the face of the franchise who doesn’t always tell his coach the truth about his health, unable to get up under his own power; his coach ashen-faced, knowing he probably shouldn’t have been so swayed by a kid with such a huge heart, no matter how good he is.
The quarterback who said he wouldn’t come off the field unless he was carted off — and even then “I would try and get off the cart and back on the field,” Griffin had said after he was concussed earlier this season — convincing the coach whose own career ended only after he finished a game with a ruptured kidney and had last rites administered to him.
Ol’ blood and guts, these two — right till the bitter end of this enrapturing season.
“I think I did put myself at more risk by being out there,” Griffin admitted after Sunday’s loss.
When he replied, “Honestly, it’s up in the air right for me right now,” to the question of whether he hurt his anterior cruciate ligament, well, that was a between-the-lines answer if ever there was one.
The hope of this town, the guy primarily responsible for the resuscitation of a franchise at just 22 years old, may be soon looking at his second rehabilitation from a major injury to his right knee in less than four years.
“You have to go with your gut and I did,” Shanahan said. “I’m not saying my gut is always right, but I’ve been here before.”
The coach undergoes major recriminations today, skewered for not looking out for the long-term health of the franchise’s best player.
Shanahan and Griffin are both stubborn, proud men whose resiliency at different times enabled them to be employed by the Hurt Business. No matter how many concussion experts the NFL has in the booth and on the sideline, until Roger Goodell gives a team physician authority over a head coach to make in-game decisions these incidents will continue to happen.
Look, the eye test will tell you Griffin should not have been out there. The more you watched him — his gait, his body language — you just cringed in pain for the kid.
But if you’re Mike Shanahan, you know two things: 1) you wouldn’t be here if No. 10 had not taken you along on this magic-carpet ride with him. And 2) Robert Griffin III has shown to have more recuperative powers than Lazarus, having already played the same week he suffered a concussion and he took the practice field after what everyone thought was a grotesque end-of-the-season knee injury against Baltimore.
You were either going to the mountaintop with him or down in flames. There was no in between. When you’re dealing with the guts and heart of men like Shanahan and Griffin, that’s how it’s always going to be.
Also, ask yourself this — and be honest: Would you have felt any differently about Shanahan’s decision if Washington wins this game, that somehow, some way, a hobbled Griffin led them back from the brink to their first playoff victory in seven years?
He would have been feted like Willis Reed was in 1973, like Kirk Gibson double-clutching his fist as he limped around the bases after his miraculous walk-off homer.
The point is, many of us feel differently — offended in some corners, disgusted in others — because of the outcome. I don’t remember anyone questioning the coaching or medical staffs of the Knicks, Dodgers and Bulls for putting their players at risk of further injury.
Those are the forever moments in sports we put up on pedestals, to remind us, after all the money and the glory and the fame, how much another human being actually wants it.
Did Shanahan err? Probably. Did Griffin? Sure. But it’s not that easy to just tear the coach apart. In fact, I can’t do it. Mike Shanahan and Robert Griffin III, had they been born at the same time, could have been brothers from another mother when it comes to who they are as people, as persevering survivors.
The reason more than 80,000 people rose in euphoria at FedEx Field the past few months is precisely because of the heart and resilience of the coach and the quarterback. You take that away from them, you make them rational, clear-thinking adults in the crucible of competition . . . there is no playoff game for the first time in 13 years in Washington on Sunday.
It’s their nature. It’s who they are. And all the recriminations in the world will not change that.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
More on the Redskins:
Summary: Seahawks 24, Redskins 14
Boswell: Seeing the NFL at its best, worst
Takeaway: No reason to hang their heads
Photos: Griffin’s injury
Photos: Scenes from the stadium