DALY: Heisman winner comes along at a crucial time for Redskins

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The last time the Washington Redskins drafted the Heisman Trophy winner — Desmond Howard 20 years ago — he held out and missed all of training camp. Howard’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, thought his client deserved to be paid a little more than the typical fourth selection because of his marketability and name recognition. The Redskins resisted this notion, and the stalemate dragged on through August.

We all got a big chuckle out of Steinberg’s fantasy that Howard was going to put fannies in the seats. In 1992, you see, the Redskins didn’t have any seats to put fannies in. They were still playing at cozy RFK Stadium, where they had been sold out forever, and their season-ticket waiting list stretched from here to Richmond. They also were coming off their third Super Bowl win in the Joe Gibbs era and didn’t feel like they needed anybody, even a receiver-return man who had scored 23 touchdowns as a college senior.

It’s one of the things that has set the Redskins apart from so many franchises. They might sign a free agent such as John Riggins, and he might help them win more games, but his box office value was negligible because the stadium already was filled. About the only place you could find a ticket back then, usually at a ridiculously inflated price, was on the secondary market.

Even during the Norv Turner downturn the fans kept coming out, filling substantially bigger FedEx Field and paying larger and larger sums for the privilege. Redskins Nation was the closest thing there was in the NFL to a golden goose. Cults have less loyalty, less devotion.

It’s not like that any more, though, is it? After 13 years of misrule under Dan Snyder, interest in the team has waned to such an extent that the owner has done the unthinkable and removed thousands of seats from Fed Ex’s upper deck. Games in recent seasons have still, technically, been sellouts, but large blocks of club seats (which don’t count in these fuzzy-math calculations) have remained empty.

Which brings us to Thursday night. With the second pick in the draft, a pick no one dreamed they’d have at this stage of Mike Shanahan’s rebuild, the Redskins are expected to select another Heisman Trophy winner: Robert Griffin III, the quarterback from Baylor. The circumstances for Griffin, though, are much different than they were for Howard. Two decades after Desmond, the Redskinsdo have tickets available — tickets they’re counting on RG3, with his promise and personal magnetism, to help sell.

The Redskins need Griffin in a way they never needed Howard. They need him because, temporarily at least, they’re no longer special, no longer immune to the laws of gravity. They’re the same, in many respects, as other struggling clubs — desperate for a great player to come along and make them relevant again, eager to be in the mix year after year like the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and That Team Up the Road, the Baltimore Ravens.

A growing consensus seems to think Griffin could be that guy. Not only is he smart, personable and mind-blowingly athletic, he also happens to be a quarterback. With the right quarterback, things can change awfully fast for a franchise. We saw it with Tom Brady in New England. We saw it with Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. We saw it with Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia. We’ve seen it with lots of QBs in lots of places. We just haven’t seen it here, not for a long time.

Like the others, Griffin needs a strong supporting cast, and it figures to take a few seasons to assemble one. The Patriots, Colts and Eagles, I’ll just remind you, didn’t have to give up a slew of high picks to get their franchise quarterbacks, didn’t have to mortgage a substantial portion of their futures.

But if RG3 truly is the QB many are convinced he is, he’ll bring out the best out in his teammates, make them look as good as they’re capable of looking. That’s what stars do. Brady, you may recall, came within a few minutes of the Super Bowl one year with a wide receiver corps of Reche Caldwell, 35-year-old Troy Brown and street free agent Jabar Gaffney. Griffin could have the same kind of elevating effect on the players around him. Not right away, maybe, but soon.

The drafting of Robert Griffin III will be heralded as the dawn of a new era for the Redskins. In reality, though, that era already has dawned, an era in which the franchise is more subject to market forces than it’s been in decades. RG3 isn’t just a quarterback, he’s a selling point, the face on the brochure, the Man Who Will Bring Back the Waiting List. If he succeeds, Washington will be his.

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About the Author
Dan Daly

Dan Daly

Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at ddaly@washingtontimes.com.

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