- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2013

NEW ORLEANS – Robert Griffin smiled for the cameras as he strode down the red carpet here Saturday evening on his way to claiming the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

He barely limped, if at all, in his first public appearance since undergoing surgery on Jan. 9 to revise the reconstruction of the ACL and repair the torn lateral collateral ligament in his right knee.

“It’s kind of like the coming out party,” he said.

Griffin’s appearance at the Mahalia Jackson Theater on the eve of the Super Bowl served two purposes – one looking backward and the other to the future.

He earned the hotly contested Offensive Rookie of the Year award for his record-setting play in a season that featured several dynamic first-year quarterbacks in the NFL, including Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and Seattle’s Russell Wilson.

Griffin also debuted his surgically repaired stride. And in doing so, he expressed the utmost confidence he will be at full health in time to quarterback the Redskins in their 2013 regular-season opener.

“No doubt in my mind,” he said.

“Very impressive,” Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said moments later. “He’s an unbelievable young man. We’re just excited to have him. He’s making great strides, and it makes it look good for the Redskins.”

Griffin arrived in New Orleans on Friday night, having left Pensacola, Fla., for the first time since his surgery. Wearing a dark gray suit and a burgundy-and-gold-striped tie, he walked without crutches down the red carpet.

He moved so smoothly that a Redskins public relations official had him circle back to the start and walk the red carpet a second time with his fiancée so media could record it and show the world.

“It’s feeling good,” Griffin said. “I went through the toughest part already, so now it’s just about being smart, not pushing it too much. That’s what the doctors are there for, to keep me from doing too much.”

Griffin and his father said he is further ahead in his recovery than he was after the same amount of time following his ACL reconstruction surgery in 2009.

Griffin’s father, Robert Jr., suspects his son’s progress has been aided by the fact he did not lose much muscle mass in his right leg following the surgery. He said Robert III did not completely tear the right patellar tendon graft that served as his ACL. However, orthopedist James Andrews detected some instability at the top of the graft and believed it would serve Robert III best to completely revise the reconstruction using a patellar tendon graft from his left knee, Robert Jr. said.

“You’ve just got to make sure you don’t get complacent, and no matter how far ahead you get, you’ve still got to be smart about it,” Griffin said. “That’s what my dad said. He told me the other day: ‘If you feel something in your knee, just stop.’ You’ve got to be able to do that.”

Griffin suffered the severe knee injury in the Redskins’ 24-14 loss to Seattle on Jan. 6. It was his third game playing through a mildly sprained LCL. He aggravated his knee on the game’s second drive but stayed in the game until his knee gave out, gruesomely buckling in the fourth quarter.

Team doctors’ decision to clear Griffin to remain in that game and coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to continue playing Griffin were sources of fierce debate as Griffin’s grim diagnosis became known.

Griffin admitted regrets about the game, but he declined to specify them Saturday.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “There’s a lot of different things that I – we – wish we would have done differently as a team. I can’t get into that with you guys. That’s a conversation I have to have with coach; I will have with coach.

“I think the only regret and bitterness is the fact that we lost, and we felt like we should have won the game. There’s things we could have done to win the game. It’s a learning experience for everybody, so that’s what it is. When I get back to Redskins Park, I’ll talk with coach, and we’ll move on from there.”

Shanahan visited Griffin after the surgery and they talked for “a couple hours,” their only conversation since the procedure, Griffin said.

Griffin’s recent days have consisted of three rehabilitation sessions. Two were at the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine, and the other was at his hotel.

“I wake up early, go to sleep late,” he said. “Right now I’m trying to work on that, trying to get some more sleep because sleep is the best remedy for any injury or sickness.”

He plans to return to Ashburn following the Super Bowl. He won’t attend Sunday’s Ravens-49ers game.

“I’m a firm believer that you don’t go to the Super Bowl unless you’re playing in it,” he said.

Going forward, Griffin plans to travel back and forth between Ashburn and Pensacola to continue his rehab.

“I think you will see a different version of me,” he said. “I vowed to my teammates and to myself after my first knee injury that I’d com back a better player, and that’s what I plan to do after this one, as well. You won’t see the same the same Robert Griffin. You’ll see a better Robert Griffin.”

• Rich Campbell can be reached at rcampbell@washingtontimes.com.

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