- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 25, 2012


November isn’t even over, and the nation already is in the grip of RG3 Mania. Jimmy Johnson, the erstwhile Dallas Cowboys genius, said on TV on Sunday that if he were starting an NFL franchise, the first player he’d pick would be Robert Griffin III. The same day, Maureen Dowd wrote about Griffin in the New York Times, and Dowd ain’t exactly the Jackie MacMullan of op-ed columnists. In fact, her “family of rabid Redskins fans stopped talking to me about football back in the ‘70s,” she admits, “when they took me to a game and I didn’t recognize Roger Staubach.” 

The Redskins’ rookie quarterback has that effect on people, even those who don’t fall asleep to “SportsCenter.” And his four-touchdown-pass flaying of the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day has only raised his profile further. He’s actually starting to be mentioned in the MVP discussion — a 22-year-old QB on a 5-6 team.

Which raises the question: Could this kid possibly be — drumroll, please — one of the Greatest Thirds of All Time? I’m not talking about “all time” just in sports; I mean in recorded history. After much thought, I’ve come up with some other Thirds that might be considered his competition, that might fill out the Top 10.

Super Bowl III: It wasn’t the most exciting Super Bowl, but it had the most impact. When the AFL’s New York Jets beat the NFL’s Baltimore Colts — as the Jets’ Joe Namath had boldly predicted — the pro football world spun off its axis. Two years later, the leagues merged, creating the colossus that now bestrides the athletic landscape.

“The Godfather, Part III”: Any movie with Al Pacino is worth the price of admission. But the last episode of the “Godfather” trilogy fell short of its predecessors because, among other things, so many memorable characters had been killed off. Don Corleone (Marlon Brando) was gone. Sonny (James Caan) was gone. Fredo (John Cazale) was gone. Clemenza, Tessio, Hyman Roth, Frankie Five Angels, Luca Brasi — all gone. Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) wasn’t in the film, either, though the issue there was money. On the plus side, “Part III” did feature, in a small role, Vito Antuofermo, the former middleweight boxing champ. It also included the legendary line, “Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in.”

Pippin III (King of the Franks, mid-eighth century): His father was Charles Martel, who won the epic Battle of Tours — the Super Bowl of 732. His son was Charlemagne, the Tom Brady of the Dark Ages. Enough said. (We’ll overlook that he’s often referred to as “Pippin the Short.”)

“I Am Third”: This autobiography by Chicago Bears Hall of Famer Gale Sayers served as the basis for “Brian’s Song,” the classic movie about his cancer-stricken teammate, Brian Piccolo. (Interesting footnote: Piccolo was played by the aforementioned Caan, who, because he was gunned down on the causeway in the original “Godfather,” was absent from “Part III.”)

Pembrook Burrows III: The 1969-70 Jacksonville Dolphins might have been the first college basketball team with two 7-footers. One was Artis Gilmore, who went on to fame and fortune in the ABA (Kentucky Colonels) and NBA (Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs). The other was Burrows, more modestly talented, who went on to become a Florida state trooper. He and Gilmore helped Jacksonville reach the NCAA championship game in ‘70, but the Dolphins lost — as everybody did back then — to John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins.

Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Had the NFL grasped this concept earlier, it might not be having all these problems with concussions.

Clarence Williams III: My generation remembers him as the ultracool Linc on the “Mod Squad” TV series in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The current generation might know him for his portrayal of drug kingpin Bumpy Johnson in the Denzel Washington flick, “American Gangster.” A fine actor, then and now. (And his “Mod Squad” Afro was even finer.)

“The Third Man Theme”: A catchy tune from the Orson Welles movie, “The Third Man,” it was released as a single in 1950 and shot to the top of the Billboard charts. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana brass later recorded a jazzed up version of it on their “Going Places” album, which also reached No. 1.

“Who’s on first, What’s on second, I Don’t Know’s on third”: OK, maybe this one’s a stretch. But when the subject is Thirds, how can you leave out the famous Abbott and Costello routine? Lest we forget, it was worked into the Dustin Hoffman/Tom Cruise film, “Rain Man.” Whenever the autistic Raymond Babbitt (Hoffman) gets scared or nervous, he starts reciting the “Who’s on first” skit. The performance earned Dustin his second Oscar for Best Actor.

And RG3 makes 10. I’d rank him in the upper half at this point — probably, oh, third behind Newton’s Third Law of Motion and Super Bowl III. But it’s early in the game for him. Before he’s done, he could well overtake Isaac and Broadway Joe and become the greatest Third in the annals of man. What’s an MVP trophy compared to that?

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