A win in Dallas on Thanksgiving, another over the New York Giants on “Monday Night Football,” and suddenly Robert Griffin III is a national phenomenon — a rookie with the NFL’s top-selling jersey, a name politicians love to drop. It can happen quickly, can’t it? Almost as quickly as Griffin can run the 40. In his case, just 12 games into his pro career.
Before beating the Cowboys and Giants, he could more accurately be described as a curiosity — a running/passing something-or-other. It’s hard to be a phenomenon when your team starts the season 3-6, when your franchise has been pretty much off the radar for two decades. People aren’t paying that close attention; you have to do things to make them pay attention. RG3 has been doing them … in high-profile settings.
Consider the events of the past three weeks:
• In the 31-6 wipeout of the Philadelphia Eagles, he threw for four touchdowns and rushed for 84 yards. Do you know how many other quarterbacks since 1960 have had that many TD passes and that many rushing yards in a game? Answer: One. (Philly’s Randall Cunningham against New England in 1990.)
• Against the Eagles and Cowboys, he tossed four touchdown passes in consecutive games. No rookie QB had done that.
• Three of those eight TD heaves, according to my calculations, traveled 60 or more yards in the air (two to Aldrick Robinson, one to Santana Moss). So we’re not just talking about an athletic quarterback, one capable of running the option and, when duty calls, scrambling 76 yards for a game-clinching touchdown (as he did against Minnesota). We’re talking about a QB with an incredibly strong and accurate (67.1 percent completions) arm, a rare combination. Or to put it another way: How often do you see a world-class track man who can throw a football through a tire at 60 paces?
• On national TV in Dallas, he took the Redskins down the field in the late going, burned more than five minutes of clock and set up a field goal that secured the victory. On national TV against the Giants, he led an 86-yard drive in the third and fourth quarters that produced the winning points (which came on an 8-yard TD flip to Pierre Garcon).
There, in four steps — or was it nine? — is how you go from a curiosity to a phenomenon.
When he arrived in Washington, Griffin already was a Commercial Entity (e.g. Adidas, Gatorade) by virtue of winning the Heisman Trophy. But in the past month, he’s taken it to another level. He’s on such a roll now that when he fumbles, it turns into a touchdown for Josh Morgan. (And when he goes to a Wizards game, they beat the Miami Heat.)
The out-of-town media is increasingly enthralled with him. En route to the locker room Monday night, Dan Graziano of ESPN.com turned to me and said, “It’s not supposed to be this easy.”
He was referring not just to Griffin but to the two other rookie quarterbacks who have maneuvered their teams into playoff position, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and Seattle’s Russell Wilson. What we’re seeing with these Golden Children is almost a Halley’s Comet kind of event. After all, it’s unusual enough that a draft produces one QB who does the kinds of things in his first year they’ve been doing. RG3, Luck and Wilson aren’t merely “driving the car,” they’re major reasons for their clubs’ success.
And at the moment, Griffin is heading the class. Watching him flick 60-yard passes and break 40-yard runs, you think of young Tiger Woods hitting driver/wedge on a par-5 — and then draining the putt. He’s a Human Highlight Film, but he’s more than that. In the years ahead, we’ll find out how much more.
If it was somebody other than Griffin, you might worry that life was going too fast for him. Being a national phenomenon can be a burden — time-consuming, conviviality-draining. But he’s clearly comfortable in the spotlight, comfortable in his own skin, and doesn’t seem like the type to go hurtling off the tracks. I mean, there’s little chance he’ll come out with an “RG3 Christmas Album,” this holiday season or next. He’s too busy trying to be a great quarterback.
It would have been nice if he’d remained Our Little Secret a while longer. Well, maybe not “secret,” per se, but we knew he was special before anybody else did, and there’s something satisfying about that. It’s like being first in line at a blockbuster movie. But he belongs to the world now, and there’s no turning back.
Next on the agenda are the Baltimore Ravens, who will roll into FedEx Field on Sunday with one of the best records in the league (9-3). If Griffin and the Redskins can make it four in a row, “national phenomenon” might not be enough for him. He might go intergalactic at that point. Vulcans might be chanting his name.