Hello, folks. I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving. I also hope you had the chance over the holiday weekend to read my story in Thursday’s newspaper about Robert Griffin III’s relationship with his father. I have wanted to write this since I went to Texas in March to begin reporting a series of features intended to comprehensively describe who Robert is.
(Other profiles in the series include: “Introducing the new face of the Redskins: Robert Griffin III,” and “Can Robert Griffin III resurrect two programs?)
Almost immediately after beginning to report on Robert, it became clear he is this seemingly too-good-to-be-true total package because of his parents – especially his father. His parents instilled in him the personality traits that make him so affable off the field, and his father spearheaded training regimens that molded him into the athlete and quarterback we see each Sunday.
The coach-athlete element of Robert’s relationship with his dad fascinates me. I’m reluctant to use the word “abnormal” because that implies connotations that, frankly, I don’t care to apply, but the intensity of their training certainly was extraordinary.
Robert III ran up hills with a tire tied to his waist while his father timed him, and that was after high school football practice each day. His mother videotaped high school football practices each day so father and son could analyze his mechanics after Robert III reviewed video with coaches. Robert Jr. would see on TV a pro quarterback – Tony Romo, for example – complete a pass he liked. He would analyze it, and then he would teach his son how to emulate it.
They practiced all sorts of throwing and quarterback drills, taking into account every scenario that might occur on the field. I promise you: if Robert III ever recovers a shotgun snap that goes over his head and then completes a pass on that play, his father would smile because they practiced that over and over. And that’s to say nothing of their hurdles training on the track.
I asked myself why Robert Jr.’s strictness, oversight and intensity worked for Robert III when it hasn’t worked for so many other father-son relationships. As I mentioned in the first section of the feature, we all know examples of a father pushing his son in something – possibly in an attempt to live vicariously through him – only for the son to rebel or break down at some point.
The answer to that question, it turns out, tells us the most important thing about Robert III: He wants to be great. He deeply wants it. His relationship with his dad worked because he wanted to be pushed in ways that wouldn’t work for many others.
His competitive drive is extraordinary. It just so happens he was born with incredible athletic talent. Combine those factors with the focus, discipline and perseverance his parents nurtured because of their military background, and you get this perfect storm of commitment, training, talent and personality that has become the cornerstone of the Redskins’ franchise and the leader of their effort to return to respectability.
“Now I look back on it and can’t believe I did some of that stuff,” Robert III said in an interview earlier this month. “If you asked me to do some of that stuff today I probably wouldn’t just because of where I am. But the only reason I’m where I am today is because I did that stuff back then. It created my foundation to be the athlete that I am today, whether it’s running, jumping.
“What he did with me helped me become one of the best athletes in the world, period. He believes that. I believe that. And I know that because of what I did with him with tires and lunges and hills and everything, it has paid off.”
Robert III’s mother, Jackie, was a source of tremendous insight about her husband and son’s relationship, as you might suspect.
“You know how some of the time you have parents that live through their kids? That wasn’t our goal,” she said. “We want our kids to have their own dreams and aspirations. And so when he came to his dad and said this is what he wanted to do, even if my husband saw these things in him beforehand, he wasn’t going to push it on him. Until he came to him and said, you know dad, I want to do this, this and this; then, OK, son, this is what it’s going to take for you to get to this. And then my husband would research and show Robert how to research.
“Robert was willing to put in the hard work, and he trusted his dad’s instruction because every time his dad told him something and he did it, he got better; he got stronger; he got faster. So when kids see results, and you know your parent loves you and you see results in what they’re telling you every time you do it, you’re going to be more eager to be obedient toward that.”
The parental support system is so engrained in Robert III that he asked his parents to move to the D.C. area after he was drafted. His parents rent a townhouse in Gaithersburg, Md., and his father works a bureaucratic job for the Department of Veterans Affairs near the White House.
Jackie sees her son twice a week or so. She braids his hair about once every two weeks, and she and her husband see Robert on game day. Father and son are so busy with their new jobs that they see each other only on game days. They communicate every day by phone, though.
“He’s a support role,” Robert III said of his dad. “What I tell people: he’s looking from the outside in. He’s got an outsider’s role, but he’s very knowledgeable when it comes to football and just people and how to manage relationships in general.
“He knows my mechanics. He has been watching me for a while. Any time he says something, yeah, I listen, but do I always like what he has to say? No. But that’s the relationship me and him have. If he says it, he knows I heard it. Whether I like it or not, he knows I heard it.”