That wasn’t just a scintillating touchdown run or a game-clinching score; Robert Griffin III on Sunday performed a healing moment for this town’s beaten-down legions.
He wasn’t merely a quarterback just before dusk in Landover; he was a human balm for the no-not-again, cover-your-eyes crowd that was dreading, almost sensing, another historic meltdown by a Washington team.
A week after suffering a concussion, he wasn’t merely cleared to play; he was cleared for takeoff.
And take off he did, turning on the afterburners, glowing incandescently as he raced past his screaming, fist-pumping teammates and coaches along the left sideline.
Griffin didn’t just win a football game with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, when he took off on one of the most electrifying touchdown runs anyone could remember since Michael Vick used these same Vikings as traffic cones in a 2002 overtime game.
Between his impromptu leap into the howling stands afterward, the smile, the jubilation felt by people falling over each other, it went so much deeper.
For the first time during an NFL regular season game in almost 13 months, people walked out of FedEx Field happy. Groups of fans chanted on the way back to their vehicles parked in the Orange and Green lots. “R-G-III! R-G-III!” Players laughed and clasped hands with teammates in the locker room, knowing they would have Monday off after a home game for the first time since Sept. 18, 2011 — the last time the Redskins won a game here.
For the first time in 48 hours, one of the most crushing Washington sports weekends in recent memory was interrupted by hope. Hope, brought on by one mesmerizing highlight, one magnificent, mood-altering player.
One 76-yard, game-sealing, film-at-11, good-night-Minnesota jaunt off left guard was all it took. Depending upon whom you asked afterward, Griffin hit the corner like either Usain Bolt or Kyle Busch.
Either way, 13 seconds later, it was gone. All of it:
●The thought of another collapse by a team representing the District after the Nationals’ crushing loss Friday night. What was announcer Dick Stockton’s line on the Fox broadcast? “The Vikings could be the St. Louis Cardinals of football?”
●The thought of a ninth straight home loss over two seasons.
●The thought that Griffin’s concussion would force him to scale back on his running.
Every dream-killing, doomsayer moment weighing this town and franchise down died Sunday at FedEx Field when Griffin took off with that football.
And here’s the best part: He knew the larger picture, what was really at stake.
“We knew to lose eight straight at home was unacceptable for any kind of sport,” Griffin said afterward. “ . . . Even though I wasn’t here for that whole time, I’m still part of this organization and I take on those burdens with all the other guys.
“With the Nationals losing down the stretch, of course that’s tough. I saw on my Twitter feed they hoped we would win to get people over that. You take all those things into account. And I think a lot of the fans, a lot of people from around this area, will appreciate us coming away with a victory.”
This kid’s belief in himself and his team is contagious, isn’t it? It was 31-26, the Redskins having given up almost all of a 31-12 lead. And this is how Griffin responded:
“When you get in those tough situations in the game — we were up by five, the game was on the line — he comes in with energy, with confidence and just gives us all a little pat on a back like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do this,’” said Kory Lichtensteiger, the team’s left guard. “And he put us on his shoulders and took it there.”
Added Lorenzo Alexander, who was given the game ball Sunday, “His approach to the game, his humbleness, his fire, his want-to. You see it all leading up to the week. You just talk to the guy and he’s a winner.”
He gives young teammates the confidence of veterans. He makes veterans feel like spry kids again. There is nothing in Washington at the moment with Griffin’s mix of humor and outright talent and heart.
“One of the great things about youth is you don’t know,” said London Fletcher, 37 years old, now in his 15th NFL season. “He doesn’t realize how hard it is to win this league. Nothing’s been too big for him. Really, he’s just going out there really having fun. I wish I could have as much fun as he does playing the game. Because he’s really just going out there carefree, just making plays like he’s on the sandlot or in high school.”
A week after he suffered a frightening concussion, it doesn’t feel like Griffin was cleared by a neurologist as much as a civic therapist, someone who acutely understood the ramifications for beaten-down Washington sports fans if the Redskins quarterback didn’t play well.
And what did Griffin do? He made everyone smile, soothed the hurt — won the game in style.
The Nationals were done after midnight Friday, unfathomably collapsing in a deciding Game 5 of the National League Division Series in which they led by two runs after 82 / 3 innings and two strikes. The Orioles, after returning to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, went belly-up against the Yankees in their own Game 5.
Facing the longest current home losing streak in the NFL, the Redskins looked to complete a miserable trifecta early. Down 9-0, not moving the ball on offense, victory didn’t look promising.
A loss would have put the cap on the weekend. Back to Lucy pulling the football away. Back to Loserville, baby.
And then it happened — those 76 yards of euphoria down the left sideline. When Griffin deigned to look back at his pursuing defenders, for those 13 seconds the inglorious past seemed in the rearview mirror, miles from catching up to the promise of the future, to Robert Griffin III.
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
More on Redskins vs. Vikings:
Summary: Washington 38, Minnesota 26
Analysis: A rookie QB who knows safety
Photos: Scenes from FedEx Field