Welcome to April, where March Madness spills over into the NFL’s own form of insanity: the walk-up to the college draft. It’s likely to get even nuttier in Washington than in most other places, because the Redskins spent heavily to obtain the second overall pick and are certain to take a quarterback with it, one they’re counting on to return the franchise to relevance.
We got a brief sample of this craziness Saturday, when Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy-winning QB from Baylor, appeared at a card-and-collector’s show in Chantilly and signed - for a price - whatever was thrust his way. My colleague Rich Campbell reported that “hundreds of fans stood in line and paid at least $100 each to get his autograph or have their photograph taken with him. … A few wore customized No. 10 Redskins jerseys with ‘Griffin III’ on the nameplate. Others wore burgundy and gold T-shirts with ‘RG3’ screened on. A few even wore cartoon-themed socks, following Griffin’s custom.”
Griffin has been the people’s choice in Redskinsland ever since Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen made St. Louis an offer it couldn’t refuse for the No. 2 selection. The assumption is that Indianapolis will take Stanford’s Andrew Luck at the top of the draft, leaving RG3 for the Redskins. However it plays out - and the Colts could certainly have a change of heart as April 26 approaches - the Redskins will come away with a coveted quarterback. And since they haven’t had an elite player at that position since Sonny Jurgensen, well, you can understand the mania that manifested itself in Chantilly.
In case you weren’t aware, this is an unusual situation we’re witnessing. You might even say it’s unique. After all, it’s rare enough that quarterbacks go 1-2 in the draft. That’s happened only five times in NFL history (the last in 1999, when Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb were the first two choices). Never, however, have those QBs also finished 1-2 in the Heisman voting, as Griffin and Luck did. (The closest: 1971, when Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning went 1-2 in the draft after going 1-3 in the Heisman race - with some fellow named Joe Theismann taking second.)
So there’s more at work here than just the NFL hype machine pumping out its limitless supply of hot air. These are, from all accounts, two special quarterbacks who could spend the rest of their careers being compared to each other - and, if we’re lucky, meeting in a Super Bowl or two. That, too, would be unprecedented, because none of the other QBs drafted 1-2 (Couch/McNabb, Peyton Manning/Ryan Leaf in 1998, Drew Bledsoe/Rick Mirer in ‘93, Plunkett/Manning and Bobby Garrett/LaMar McHan in ‘54) ever matched spirals in the postseason, never mind the title game.
Griffin and Luck will almost be like twins separated at birth. They’ll be brought into the pro football world just minutes apart - think of them as Pick 1A and Pick 1B - after which they’ll head off in their separate directions to become whatever it is they’re destined to become. Meanwhile, you, I and the rest of the NFL universe will be watching, as if it were some grand laboratory experiment. Which quarterback will turn out to be better?
The consensus is that Luck is the more finished product, to which I reply: Why wouldn’t he be? His father, Oliver, was a star quarterback at West Virginia and spent several years as an NFL backup. His coach at Stanford for three seasons was Jim Harbaugh, a former pro quarterback who, last season, nearly took San Francisco to the Super Bowl (and got more out of 49ers QB Alex Smith than anyone dreamed possible). And in college, let’s not forget, Luck was protected by two linemen, David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, who figure to be drafted in the first round not long after he is. You couldn’t ask for a better environment to develop in than Andrew has had.
Griffin is a bit more of a projection. His father wasn’t a pro quarterback. His college coach didn’t throw for more than 25,000 yards in the NFL - and then become a successful coach in the league. His offensive line didn’t have two future first-round picks. Yet he, not Luck, was the one who swooped in, from far off the radar, to grab the Heisman. Imagine the talent it takes to do that.
Soon enough, of course, we won’t have to imagine anything. One of them will be playing for the Colts, the other for the Redskins, and we can sit back and enjoy the show. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Or will they be remembered, ultimately, as Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck? Whichever it is, make no mistake: They’re likely to be linked for all eternity.