- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The game was supposed to be a celebration.

Hope, after all, followed Robert Griffin III onto FedEx Field eight months ago.

After starting 10 different quarterbacks in 10 forgettable years, the Redskins had found the man to construct the franchise around. His powerful right arm and legs that always seemed one step ahead of would-be tacklers merged with an endorsement-winning smile and the uncanny ability to say the right thing at the right time.

The franchise knocked back by everything from Albert Haynesworth’s ill-fated $100 million contract to draft-pick blunders to the NFL-imposed $36 million salary cap penalty finally had a face. All the bad feelings vanished in a charmed run to win the regular season’s final seven games, capture the NFC East Division title and make the first playoff appearance in five years. The same old Redskins became a juggernaut of exotic offensive formations and victories snatched from certain defeat.

Forget about the porous secondary. Never mind season-ending injuries to Fred Davis, Adam Carriker and Brian Orakpo. Even Griffin’s scare after being enveloped by refrigerator-sized Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in December turned out to be nothing more than a sprained right knee.

Griffin had the gift to sidestep trouble with the same ease he escaped defenders.

The celebration, however, disappeared in a shower of green-painted dirt.

Scenes from the last time Griffin played at FedEx Field in the 24-14 playoff game to the Seahawks appear like remnants of a bad dream than a football game. The renewed hope that this team was different from past disappointments, the 84,325 supporters chanting “R-G-3!, R-G-3!”, the early 14-0 lead, the ability to find a way to pull out a win no matter the circumstances, the rookie quarterback who could do no wrong. All that promise dashed against turf that resembled a freshly plowed field rather than something suited for football.

The consequences of that chilly day haven’t left. They followed Griffin from the tear-streaked moments after January surgery to repair his damaged right anterior cruciate ligament to the all-out rehabilitation that spawned an ESPN documentary to the back-and-forth bickering that clung to each phase of his recovery.

The most-discussed knee in the NFL is once again healthy. At least that’s what coach Mike Shanahan and Dr. James Andrews and Griffin insist. But time can only do so much. Moving past the painful series of events from January and months since can only happen on the field.

That starts with Monday’s season-opening kickoff against the Eagles scheduled for 6:55 p.m. To welcome back possibility. To lift the burden that’s hung over Washington like the 74-foot projection of Griffin’s image on the side of the Newseum above Pennsylvania Avenue last August. To finally end a game that festered an entire offseason.

Easy scores on the first two drives against the Seahawks defense that allowed the NFL’s fewest points.

Griffin rolling toward the right sideline to buy time for a pass, falling with his right leg awkwardly underneath him, then limping like a man with a leg that refuses to work correctly.

The unsettling reality that he wasn’t the same, that his once-smooth strides became abrupt hobbles. The inability to run neutered the offense. Just 36 total yards came on his final six possessions. Nothing worked like it used to.

The errant shotgun snap from center Will Montgomery in the fourth quarter. Griffin’s scramble for the ball amid the field’s divots and potholes. The right leg planting, then collapsing. Never mind the bulky black brace. That moment frozen in photographs and slow-motion replays, where the knee of the franchise’s savior is twisted at a sickening, unnatural angle.

Griffin’s description of the since-redone turf as “part of our homefield advantage.”

The postgame second-guessing that bled into month after month of the offseason. Dr. James Andrews. Shanahan. Even Griffin, trying to lose himself in the invented semantics of playing hurt versus playing injured.

The game’s shadow remains. That can start to dissipate Monday night. The bucket hat and self-proclaimed ‘Operation Patience’ as Griffin watched the four preseason games from the sidelines are gone. The games, the real ones, are back.

And hope, once again, will follow the quarterback onto FedEx Field. Hope that this time is different.