At FedEx Field on Saturday afternoon, Robert Griffin III walked to the center of an elevated stage in one end zone and looked out over a crowd that was 70 yards deep, elbow-to-elbow, sideline-to-sideline, with thousands more fans in the stands. The Washington Redskins said 19,880 people showed up. Some presidential conventions are smaller. And, to Washingtonians, maybe less important.
At this meet-and-greet with his new best friends, the Redskins No. 1 draft pick, who is at ease with sick children, cameras, teammates, celebrities and virtually anybody he meets, finally looked just a tiny bit nervous and overwhelmed, as though the enormity and perhaps ridiculousness of the scene had finally hit home.
“I think they are ready to win. I think that’s why they are here,” Griffin said to the throng. “You guys bring the excitement.”
Then he waved his arm for more volume, but got a response he probably hadn’t expected. Instead of a Redskins yell, not the most productive use of lung capacity in recent years, the crowd instead bellowed, “RGIII” over and over.
That’s not who Griffin is. Calling his first FedEx audible, Griffin switched focus to the Redskins fight song.
“Hail to the Redskins, hail victory,” he sang. But he hadn’t learned the rest. You can bet he will, since it follows touchdowns. So he stuck his mic toward the crowd so they could belt it out, down to “fight for old D.C.”
Because of an imperfect sound system and a stilted Q&A format, Griffin’s remarks ended fairly quickly. For the only time, he seemed concerned that he couldn’t do more to please — handsprings, magic tricks or a comedy routine. Griffin lives to surpass astronomical expectations and, above all, not disappoint those who rely on him. As he walked off stage, back through a phalanx of Redskins cheerleaders, he gave a little “wow” shake of the head.
This is what he’s gotten himself into. Some fear it. It’s dessert to him.
In the crowd, Walter Wiggins, 59, of Bowie, who saw his first Redskins game with his father in Griffith Stadium, jumped up to smack the paw of a seven-foot-tall Lion mascot, there to advertise a kid’s movie. “We’re going to be lions this year with RGIII!” he yelled. “This makes me feel young.”
Nearby, Tony Sawyers, and his 11-year-old son Trevon, both Cowboys fans, paid their respect to Griffin, nonetheless: “Whether I’m a Redskins fan or not, he’s such a good character guy that my son needs to see him.”
The scene of RGIII meeting his public may be the image of the day, but it is not the main insight. Everybody notes that Griffin says all the right things. That implies coaching. He says the all right things because he feels all the right things. That’s why the proper phrases, the right nuances that deflect unearned praise, exude confidence and promote team feeling spring from his mouth as he thinks and creates on his feet. That’s why Cowboy fathers think their ’Poke sons need to see him.
“You can never walk up to a 30-year-old man when you are 22 and tell him what to do. I have to earn his respect,” said Griffin of his role as instant team leader. “I’m here to work. It’s not about show . . .
“I’m not here to take the weight of the last 20 years on my shoulders. I don’t have to do everything myself,” said Griffin, who then balanced this common sense with the counterpoint of confidence. “I don’t know everything about the Redskins yet, but I know the struggles the team has gone through, especially at quarterback. I plan to be the solution.”
Griffin has already met President Obama — “an honor”and has sized him up as “a really cool down-to-earth person,” who wants to set up a basketball game. “But he says I have to be on his team,” added Griffin.
Will Griffin be anywhere close to the quarterback, the leader under pressure that he has already become as a commanding public person? He’s so comfortable in his own skin he makes others feel comfortable in theirs. You’d assume the transition would work. But the Colts picked Andrew Luck before him, so that erases the notion that his NFL future is a certainty.
How much of RGIII’s personality is the influence of his former career-military parents, how much comes from the values of his religious upbringing and how much is sport-culture osmosis of a youth spent wanting to be like Mike? “I still sometimes pass with my tongue out,” Griffin said.
And how much of his innate presence is just unique to him?
We’re probably going to have a decade to discern such distinctions and enjoy the growing man, because Griffin is almost sure to be the Redskins quarterback for many years. With a player this conspicuously gifted, above and below the neck, if RGIII falters, few will hurry to say, “He’s a bust.”
“Change the receivers,” “get better blockers,” “switch the system” and even “get a new coach” are all ideas that are more likely to come to mind. Write it down: Mike Shanahan will succeed with him or leave before him.
Some young first-round quarterbacks play dumb. Others actually are dumb (the Redskins have had a couple). Most of the smart ones shy from revealing very much. Not Griffin. He’s memorizing facts about his new teammates and doesn’t mind if they know it. “I am lookin’ ’em up,” he says.
Asked if it’s fair to compare him to Michael Vick, he calls it a compliment, then talks about how his father used film of the ancients — “Roger Staubach, a bad name around here, Fran Tarkenton, Kenny Stabler, Randall Cunningham and Steve Young” — to show him how to be “a throwing quarterback who just happens to be really fast.”
Griffin’s ability as an NFL quarterback will take time to judge. By taking another quarterback in the fourth round (my vote: moronic) the Redskins as much as admitted that no prospect on earth is a sure thing. But Griffin’s suitability for the spotlight, his equilibrium with it, is now obvious.
“Some call it a whirlwind,” said Griffin of the last few days. “I saw seven different variations of my name on shirts yesterday. I just go with the flow. It’s all part of the gig. You have to try to wrap your mind around it.
“But it can be difficult,” he conceded, before adding the perfect RGIII touch. “I hope it gets even worse, because that means we’ll be winning.”
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/boswell.