When Do You Yank Your RGIII?

If the Redskins had won, we probably would not be having this conversation. But they didn’t, so we are. Why keep RGIII in?

Yes, he argued that he deserved to play. He could play through the pain. He, a 22 year old rookie phenom, convinced his veteran coach to keep him in the game. Mike Shanahan relented. Says he “went with his gut.” And he’ll likely “be second guessing himself.”

What a tough spot for Shanahan, but not a tough call. This is when you have to turn off your ears and probably tune down the heart a bit, too. You’ve got to coach with your eyes. Because the one thing a coach can do that a player can’t do for himself is watch him play. See how he’s moving, how he’s acting, how he’s communicating. A player can’t see himself do these things. A coach can.

And, frankly, so did the dozen or so aging athletes in my living room watching the Redskins vs Seahawks game last night. We were literally shouting it at the tv. “His injury is affecting his decision-making!” His disabled knee was hurting his play more than his presence was inspiring his team. RGIII’s staying in the game was actually bringing the Redskins down.

Yes, he’s got the physical ability – amazing speed, quickness, strength, agility, flexibility. He’s got the mental ability – intelligence, play-calling, reading defenses, adjusting on the fly. He’s got the courage and leadership gifts – no question. But what makes him a natural is the intangible thing. It’s the “on the fly” thing. It’s his movement that allows Robert Griffin III to put all that he has together and put it into play HIS way. When he moves, like only he can, it sets everything else in motion: the head, the heart, the eyes, the ears. His physical motion activates the rest of it. And isn’t it a thing of beauty, when years of training, practice and play are stirred with instinct and let loose on the field, naturally. That’s what RGIII has. Or had.

Until a month ago. A knock of the knee, not severe, not demanding surgical repair, but it hobbles him. Takes away his mobility, just a bit. All of a sudden the body-mind-soul connection is impaired. His freedom is hampered. What used to flow naturally, now has some hiccups. Re-routing has to take place, mid-move, mid-play.

This was evident in Griffin over the last month, and showcased in the playoff game last night. He’s a remarkable young man, with an amazing skill set, physical gifts and a heart of courage. The Great Oz has got nothing for him. But make Griffin stand still and the activator switch is disengaged. The magically miraculous becomes merely terrestrial.

But a player can’t see this because he plays on feel, the sense of what’s on the inside. And in the big game that’s clouded by the pumping of adrenaline and the weight of responsibility as it compresses his shoulder pads. He’s in a veritable vice. To play this game the way Griffin has played the others he must throw all that off, as he has been in increasing measure, and dig deep for what’s always worked for him: the natural instinct to execute with split second timing.

But it wasn’t there. And when RGIII tried to bridge the gap using valiant grit and determination, he couldn’t. Instead, he buckled, literally under the weight of it all.

RGIII gives way.

We’ll see what the MRI shows. And, whatever it is, thank goodness he now has the whole off-season to recover. But I hope in his recovery and return this young man will tune into what I know about him just from watching. Mr. Griffin III, your mind, your body, your soul – they’re all in there together. Inseparable agents in the gift you have. A package deal. None more important than the other. Meant to be wielded together.

Now we know you’re human. A mere mortal. When you come back, you will be a bit more firmly held  – yes, by handlers and coaches and trainers and even more so by your teammates whom you’ve inspired well beyond what they could have hoped. And you’ll be held by the rest of us, the collection of even more earthbound mortals, who have been awed by what you have done.

But be forewarned: you have great power. Power to talk your elders into letting you do what you shouldn’t be doing. You have an uncanny ability to make things happen and a knack for getting your way. Sometimes, honest self-evaluation says, “take a seat.”

You’ll learn this. You’ve got time. You’re a natural.

Thanks, Redskins, for an incredibly exciting season!


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