By Jason Keidel
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Despite the silence from the frostbitten swamp of MetLife, football still has a chokehold on New York dialogue. We have the Jets, court jesters of the NFL, and the conflict du jour is over another player who isn’t playing this weekend.
This week’s screen-in-screen drama stars Robert Griffin III — henceforth addressed by his handle, RG3 — who tumbled, untouched, to the ground in the fourth quarter against Seattle on Sunday, a victim of terrible turf, medicine, coaching or all the above, depending on whom you ask.
The wretched field conditions could have swallowed RG3 — Seattle’s sack leader Chris Clemons also collapsed with a torn ACL — or perhaps he was predisposed to injury. (He hurt his knee at Baylor in 2009, and again against Baltimore last month.) Or perhaps it was just his time, no matter how obscenely early it is.
How do we know RG3’s prior condition provoked the current? How do we know he wouldn’t have torn a ligament anyway? How do we know anything? Since we’re not doctors — nor do we play one on television — anything is just conjecture. Yet millions of us have suddenly spawned lab coats and stethoscopes and convicted Mike Shanahan and Dr. James Andrews of savage malpractice.
Whomever asserts that Shanahan is kooky, or even criminal, for putting his biggest player in his biggest game hasn’t watched pro football for the last 40 years. Jack Youngblood played against my beloved black & gold in the Super Bowl with a broken leg. Troy Aikman said he doesn’t remember entire playoff games because of concussions. Alabama’s star offensive lineman, Barrett Jones, is about to undergo surgery after playing against Notre Dame with a lisfranc fracture. It’s only a problem when the player either loses the game or his ability to play the next.
“Shanahan hasn’t won squat without John Elway,” seems to be the default dissection of the coach’s career. But they ignore the fact that he took Jake Plummer — an aloof outcast who was admittedly indifferent about pro football — to an AFC title game. And the embattled coach just took a rookie running back and the aforementioned rookie QB to the playoffs. While we’re at it, find us a coach who wins championships sans iconic signal-callers. The winning QB of the last 10 Super Bowls will wind up in the Hall of Fame.
Forgive the cliché, but RG3 is literally all that is good about sports and sportsmen. He has played with the grace, moxie and maturity of a man a decade deep into his career. The three-headed rookie behemoth that America has adopted — Andrew Luck, RG3, and Russell Wilson — is a once-a-decade, if not generation, convergence. Such a confluence of timing and talent should be cherished, not compared. But I’ve always been a Luck guy because, to paraphrase Howie Long, Luck “rolls out of bed” at 250 pounds and heeds the pocket more persistently than his speedier rookie brethren. But at least 25 NFL teams would trade their entire drafts for one of these gifted bucks.
Football players play hurt all the time. In fact, you pause when they don’t. So Griffin is hailed as a hero for playing with brittle knees, but his coach is being shredded for rewarding his star player for doing so. Jay Cutler was vaporized for leaving an NFC championship game, and he was legitimately injured. And RG3 would have been branded similarly had he limped off the field before the fourth quarter of a playoff game.
This quintessential backseat driving is nauseating. And they’re so quick to use another D.C. sports team as the exemplar of prudence. The Nationals benched Stephen Strasburg for the playoffs based on pitch counts. How’s that going? An otherwise World Series contender was bounced in the first round. And while the Nats are still young and talented, nothing is promised. (The ’80s Mets were supposed to win four or five World Series. And Dan Marino was supposed to sport several Super Bowl rings.)
Whatever happened to bad luck? I wrecked my knee in 1997, an injury that makes a torn ACL look like a hangnail — a freak accident of the highest order. But no one cares because I’m not an athlete. No one cares when you snap your Achilles at the YMCA playing pickup ball. These things happen. And the odds of them happening to an NFL player — who happens to be a quarterback who runs the spread offense — are exponentially higher.
Griffin III did what he was trained to do, as did the men who let him do it. Why can’t misfortune be enough? Why can’t we just leave it to the football gods? Because we’re too busy being gods ourselves.
Do you agree, or should Shanahan have taken his star quarterback out? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below…