They made their way up the tunnel, division champions for the first time in more than a dozen years, each of the Washington Redskins celebrating in their own way.
Linebacker London Fletcher pointed as a small group of fans called his name. Running back Alfred Morris ran with a football under his arm, the same as he had done throughout the evening.
One of the last to make it up the ramp was quarterback Robert Griffin III, the man who’s most responsible for leading the Washington Redskins to Sunday night’s 28-18 victory against the Dallas Cowboys and the NFC East title. He walked slowly, a brace on his right knee and a slight limp in his gait.
“Champions!” someone yelled, and the rookie smiled.
Griffin wasn’t his usual self Sunday, still hobbled by a knee injury suffered three weeks earlier.
“I was able to be effective,” Griffin said.
His runs weren’t as dynamic as the NFL and Redskins fans have grown used to this season. His passes weren’t as crisp. A player who has, throughout most of a dazzling rookie campaign, played as if he has never made a mistake, came dangerously close Sunday evening to several. Griffin is magic, though, and he allowed Morris to be the night’s star, for Dallas quarterback Tony Romo to leave FedEx Field with three interceptions to his name.
Griffin, in an unusual twist, mostly stayed out of the spotlight. Not entirely, though. He ran 10 yards in the third quarter for a touchdown and, appearing to be even slightly slower, broke a 17-yarder in the fourth quarter.
“He wasn’t his normal self,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan admitted, going on to say that it was as much a surprise for him as for anyone watching.
Griffin has a way about him, a feeling of invincibility, and more than that, he doesn’t admit to feeling pain or experiencing weakness. Griffin didn’t tell his coach last week that he was anything but 100 percent, and Shanahan said his quarterback didn’t practice as if anything was wrong, either.
“He always tells me he’s fine,” Shanahan said. “You can see that he was hurting a little bit.”
The Redskins didn’t just become a playoff team on Sunday night, and they didn’t just win their seventh game in a row. They won one of the NFL’s most competitive divisions, the one under the most scrutiny, and as the past two months passed, Griffin rarely seemed fazed.
He and Morris and left tackle Trent Williams and so many other young players were building something remarkable – something that hadn’t been done since Griffin was 9 years old.
“I stand before you today 22,” he said in that calm, diplomatic way of his, “and the Redskins are NFC East champions. . . . We came in and did it in one year.”
This is a young man with a Heisman Trophy, the NFL at his feet, and the nation’s capital eager to watch his next move. As always, Griffin didn’t seem intimidated by the pressure, and with playoff games ahead, nothing seems impossible.
“The sky is the limit for this team,” he said.
As long as the Redskins’ young star can stay healthy, or healthy enough, it seems foolish to doubt him.
More on the Redskins and the NFL :
Game summary: Redskins 28, Cowboys 18
Boswell: Rookie Morris finds his calling
Photos: Scenes from FedEx Field
Couch Slouch: The luck of Bill Belichick