- Jul 28, 2009
- Reaction score
In the fall of 2009, just when Briles and the fans in Baylor Stadium were starting to dream big, Griffin went down. Anterior cruciate ligament. The whole Baylor community took it hard (overnight, the stadium was half-empty, Griffin says), but Griffin took it to heart. He personalized the injury, made it his fault. "I saw how many people I let down," he says. "My head coach cried. My offensive coordinator cried. My offensive line coach cried."
Then he saw, beneath their sorrow, a genuine concern for him. "Not even worried about the season -- worried about me as a person & I saw that in their eyes."
It broke his spirit. It lifted his heart. Until that moment, Griffin says, he'd never embraced football. He'd always played full speed, all out, but he'd never cherished the game, not until it was taken from him. "I didn't love football before I tore my ACL. When I came back, I loved it."
There are many connections between that Baylor injury and the one Griffin suffered last season against Seattle. Same knee, of course. Same threat to his career. But there's also this: When Griffin woke in the operating room, he once again saw his entire football family with tears in their eyes. The family members were different -- Dan Snyder, Redskins owner; Bruce Allen, general manager; Tony Wyllie, head of public relations -- but Griffin's feeling of gratitude was the same. "It's tough for professional athletes to trust anyone in this business," he says. "When the owner of the team, the general manager of the team, the PR director of the team, they're all there, that's how you know: I can trust these guys."
Of course, Griffin's real family was there too. Father, mother and his fiancée, Rebecca Liddicoat, holding his hand, kissing him. They'd all watched his surgery from the viewing room, and they looked traumatized. Only one person, however, had watched every minute; only one person was that strong. Griffin's mother. When Griffin saw her crying, that's when he fell apart. "What no one knew was, at the time of my first surgery I told my parents, I promised them: I'll never do this to you again. I'll never have a serious injury again and have you guys go through this emotional turmoil."
Thus, the first words he spoke as the anesthesia wore off: "I'm sorry."
As for blame, guilt, accountability, all the things DC fans want to know about -- Didn't they realize what was at stake? -- the buck stops with Griffin, he says Trumanesquely. Whether it's the quality of the sod at FedEx Field (which, that fateful day, had the consistency and texture of greased hay marinated in runny manure) or the decision-making of his coach, Mike Shanahan, Griffin isn't throwing anyone or anything under any manner of moving vehicle. "One thing [Shanahan] stressed to me," Griffin says, "is we have to be a close group. We can't let people outside penetrate that and create a rift. Have we talked about the season, the sequence of events that happened over the last four games and the playoffs? Yes. We have. That's something you handle internally."
But Kirk Cousins, the Redskins' talented backup, who relieved Griffin in the Baltimore game and again in the Seattle game, recalls eavesdropping on an intense sideline conference between Griffin and Shanahan: "Robert, you're clearly limping, you're not at full strength, do you think you need to come out? And I'm not quoting anybody, I'm just paraphrasing. And Robert's attitude was: I'm okay. I understand there's a limp, but I'm going to be okay. I brought us this far, I want to finish this thing."
Cousins adds: "I think it was tough for Coach Shanahan to tell him no. And it was tough for Robert to back down. Both of them were in a tough spot, each guy's word against the other."