The deification of Robert Griffin III now in full overdrive, I decided to finally call Black Jesus and ask about the second coming.
“They’re calling Griffin that now?” Earl Monroe said, chuckling, when he returned my call from his home in New Jersey on Sunday.
Yes, the Pearl is told, Fred Davis, Griffin’s teammate, christened the 22-year-old Redskins rookie quarterback “Black Jesus” more than a month ago. But he apparently did not know the former Baltimore Bullet was given the nickname some 45 years ago.
“Well, I’m fine if they want to call him that,” Monroe added. “Fact is I really love watching him. He is something. I read yesterday his [touchdown to interception] ratio is 16 to 4. That’s just incredible.
“But people should know when they see a special player now they’re comparing him to things they’ve seen. So when I hear some crazy opinion, ‘This is the most exciting player, ever, of all time,’ I just laugh because I know the person saying that hasn’t been alive very long.”
Going head-to-head Monday night against Eli Manning in the first meaningful December NFL game at Washington since 2008, Robert Griffin III is many things.
He is the first rookie in league history to drop four touchdowns on opponents in back-to-back weeks.
He is a natural commercial pitchman whose jersey remarkably outsold Peyton Manning’s, Tom Brady’s, LeBron James’s and the other most popular athletes in the world on Cyber Monday.
He is, well, money on game day. “No Pressure, No Diamonds” isn’t just a Nike marketing slogan; the bigger the stage the grander the guy’s performance thus far.
He is indeed the biggest, brightest, most exhilarating performer in this town at this very second.
Yes, 11 mostly scintillating games into his maiden season, the congregation needs to be seated. As too good to be true as his start seems, Griffin is not the most exciting athlete in the history of Washington sports.
Heck, he’s not even the most breathtaking quarterback the Redskins plucked from a Texas college.
To even begin to place him in a category of Sammy Baugh stutter-stepping at Griffith Stadium, Frank Howard walloping a shot and denting the left field seats of RFK, Len Bias levitating at Maryland, Allen Iverson going reverse baseline at Georgetown, Patrick Ewing swatting balls into Row D or John Riggins churning off left tackle in the Super Bowl smacks of premature elevation.
George Solomon, The Post’s longtime former sports editor, reminded me that papers were actually added to the Sunday circulation run on the nights when Sugar Ray Leonard fought in the 1980s, so enormously exciting and popular was the champion boxer from Palmer Park, Md.
Josh Gibson, batting for the Homestead Grays, once crushed more home runs in the distant left field bleachers of Griffith Stadium than the entire American League. “Most thrilling player I ever laid eyes on,” said Audrey Fields, the 82-year-old widow of former Homestead Grays pitcher Wilmer Fields, when I interviewed her in late September.
And just try talking 99-year-old Bertram R. Abramson out of his most exciting athlete in Washington being anyone but Walter Johnson, whom Abramson told my friend Josh du Lac he saw pitch in Game 1 of the 1924 World Series.
The point is, godding up Griffin too soon is dangerous. Acquired after a trade for St. Louis’s No. 2 overall draft pick that included everything but the practice bubble, the kid has amazingly lived up to more expectations than thought possible. So now it’s time to let him be.
He has an NFC East game to win Monday night, not a legacy to maintain.
In the pecking order of recent supernovas here, Griffin is now certainly No. 1, followed probably by Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Alex Ovechkin, who scored goals while gliding on his back a few years ago and was about the most electric performer the NHL had ever seen.
Ovi is still tremendous, on a Hall of Fame trajectory. But he is also a cautionary tale about falling too deeply in love with a phenom too early.
The same goes for spread-option quarterbacks in the NFL. Remember the two who dominated pregame banter before they were extricated from NFL conversation this December?
In less than a year, Cam Newton went from being Muhammad Ali on an NFL field — putting up 4,000 yards of passing and another 700 of rushing his rookie season — to a churlish second-year quarterback pointing fingers on a bad team. Tim Tebow was a messiah for a god-awful Broncos team — until John Elway forsook him with a trade to the Jets, which these days is as about as close as you can get to Hades.
This unexplained need to erect a statue right now needs to simmer down a while. He can be RGIII or “Rob” or “Griff” a while longer.
No need for Robert Gandhi III, RGesus or Black Jesus — especially after you talk to the original, who a teenage Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) first encountered at Mount Morris Park in Harlem in 1966 for the Rucker League crown. As Monroe parted two busloads of Philadelphia fans, the only sound was a “continuous wail that seemed to be coming from everywhere,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his autobiography.
“Where’s Jesus? Black Jesus!” they yelled about the player who could spin 360 degrees in midair before scoring, who was Julius Erving and Michael Jordan before Dr. J and Michael.
“I completely get it,” Monroe said Sunday. “They’ve been looking for something exciting down there for a good, long while. Griffin seems so dedicated to his craft, too. He’s the real deal. He’s got touch, legs. He’s hittin’ guys running quick slants. Hopefully he continues this pace.
“But let’s keep it all in perspective. Back in those days, there were things done people really hadn’t done before. That doesn’t take away from a guy’s legitimacy or greatness now. It’s okay to be enamored by what you see. But, to me, I don’t jump through rings about it because I’ve either seen it or done it myself before.”
For previous columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.