MINNEAPOLIS — It’s not easy being this reviled, having basically an entire state and a significant portion of an ethnicity rooting for you to be violently slammed to the ground, rooting for you not just to lose an NFL game but also the very name on your jersey, the logo on your helmet.
It’s hard work for a franchise to get in its own way like this, making Sundays often about everything but football — turning their face-of-the-franchise quarterback’s decent return from injury into a chaotic day of off-field drama and crushing on-field disappointment.
And when the stubbornness of your employer on the name issue or the knuckleheadedness of your loud, annoying teammates in the locker room don’t do the job, Robert Griffin III can always count on rotten karma en route to the stadium.
Did we mention the bus crash that nearly took a bus load of coaches over an embankment and into oncoming traffic, how lives flashed before eyes at 8 a.m. Sunday morning?
“I truly believe that someday the negativity will stop and people will stop trying to tear us down from the outside,” Griffin said after his uninspired club fell to 3-6 against a less-than-mediocre opponent with a rookie quarterback it couldn’t contain. “God has a plan.”
The Creator was unavailable for comment, but it’s clear in just scheduling the Vikings as a road game that the plan is either to inflict physical and psychological pain on the lads from Ashburn or to teach a severe lesson going forward: Preparing for an athletic contest is damn near impossible with this many distractions.
There was indeed a back-and-forth game here Sunday, but you had to search hard amid a dizzying array of other stories involving the team:
Followed by. . .
Followed by. . .
Followed by. . .
“I can’t really say about the report, but we knew about the protest and obviously the crash before the game,” Griffin said. “I can’t really worry about the negativity that’s swirling around. You know, someday that’ll stop.”
This can’t just be about an uninspired team, fresh off perhaps one of the top five regular season wins in Dan Snyder’s tenure Monday night in Dallas, being unable to stop the rookie quarterback of a 3-5 team from moving the chains at will, can it?
There were other forces at play, things that many of the players didn’t see but their fans who had traveled to the game had to witness, cringe over and deal with.
For everyone who passed in a No. 10 jersey with “GRIFFIN III” stenciled on the back, Samuel Wounded Knee made Griffin’s legions feel about as uncomfortable as the actual quarterback, who was sacked five times Sunday.
“We don’t want to be your mascots,” the Crow Creek Sioux man said, over and over. “My kids are not your mascots.”
There were more than 3,000 Native Americans protesting with placards and “Change the Name!” chants and “RETHINK,” “REPLACE,” and “RENAME” T-shirts in the same colors and font as those sold in the team store.
It was the largest physical gathering against Snyder’s brand, which he holds onto tighter than any fullback who’s never fumbled.
Inside the stadium, the quarterback was sacked five times, the secondary couldn’t cover a Wheat Thin and the Washington football team was listless in another lost day in Minneapolis. Outside, a state of 11 sovereign nations and their allies mocked burgundy-and-gold nation.
“We got a hostile environment!” Griffin said in an emotional pregame speech caught on camera. “It’s Us vs. Them . . . This is for us! For the helmet! For the name on the front of your jersey! Let’s go. One-two-three, work!”
Speaking to him privately afterward, Griffin told me in no way were his words meant to construe anything other than something in a football context. And I believed him.
But here’s the thing: Until Snyder finally understands his greatest commodity going forward might be his quarterback and not one troubling aspect of his franchise’s outdated past, he’s doing a disservice to every player, every coach — every fan made to feel lousy for wearing their sweatshirt or beanie going to an away game — who has to deal with the fact that this organization is never just about the product on the field.
“Let’s talk about the game!” Tony Wyllie, the team’s spokesman, yelled beside the lectern after yet another bus-crash question was asked of an accommodating Griffin.
Look, aside from unfortunate circumstance, the reason there is so much more to talk about than the game when it comes to Washington is because drama is all this franchise knows.
The reason a report may or may not have been misconstrued about Griffin’s approval rating in the locker room is because of the childish antics of players like Pierre Garcon and others, who loudly clowned on a certain team employee as Griffin was going about an interview session with the media Friday, a level of unprofessionalism that fans don’t care about but worms its way into the general dysfunction of a franchise that is still learning smarts and civility on the fly.
And when they aren’t directly embarrassed by their deeds, their fans are.
It is severely upsetting to see a middle-aged man and his young son in their team jerseys, stunned at all these Native Americans with their placards and chants eyeing them with death stares.
The kid didn’t know what to do. The father grew angry and asked what could really come of changing the team’s name. Just then, an elderly Native American woman came within five feet of them, pointing at both: “Shame on you! Shame!”
When I told several protesters of how bad I felt for that kid in his blond mop, maybe 12, one of them said the exact same thing a protester said to me a year ago in Minneapolis when I witnessed a similar incident.
“Don’t feel bad for their kids,” a Navajo woman told me. “Now they know what ours feel like.”
See, the problem with being this reviled, with people wanting you to lose at everything you do in ways that have nothing to do with football, is the transfer of negative energy toward your players, your fans, your quarterback, and everyone left to defend you while you despondently sit through another why-us loss in the owner’s box, much more interested in being right than ever being liked or happy.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.
Summary: Minnesota 29, Washington 26