December 23, 2011 in Sports

Even Huskies fans can’t dislike Baylor’s Griffin

Everett Herald
 

You’ve gotta hate this guy.

For three and a half hours on Thursday night, Husky fans, you’ve got to find it in your hearts to despise college football’s most exciting, most inspirational and most … well, perfect player.

He was raised by two military parents, including a father who signed up at the age of 17 to get out of the projects of New Orleans? Don’t let that tug at your heartstrings.

He was recently moved by the attempt of two deaf fans to spend 15 minutes communicating their fondness for him through an interpreter? Ignore that lump in your throat.

Had he not been one of the fastest people in the country and a gridiron star, he still could have earned a full scholarship … an academic scholarship? Don’t get inspired, Husky Nation.

When Robert Griffin III takes the field for what might be his final game as quarterback of the Baylor University football team in Thursday’s Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, from the Huskies’ point of view he might as well be wearing a black hat. And yet somehow the bad-guy label doesn’t seem to fit.

The University of Washington’s final obstacle in a roller-coaster of a football season might be the hardest man to hate in the entire country. If there’s one single reason not to like him, it might be because Griffin is so darned … likeable.

“Gosh, he’s a model student-athlete,” Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said earlier this month when asked if there’s anything someone could possibly dislike about Griffin. “As dynamic as he is on the field, he’s also a great student who’s going to graduate in three years. He’s pretty remarkable — on the field, in the classroom, doing community service. We’re awfully proud of him.”

If McCaw had to find something, it might be that Griffin is too accommodating. He never turns down an interview request and readily volunteers for any community service or speaking engagement made available. So the athletic department, in an effort to give the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner a little privacy, has had to shield him from the public at times. The school has gone as far as to provide security for the star quarterback in and around Waco.

“He’s always been a fan favorite,” McCaw said. “His status has reached a new level since coming back from New York and the Heisman ceremony, to the point where we had to make sure there were people around him for protection.”

It might just take a deep touchdown pass or a third-down scramble to the sticks during Thursday night’s Alamo Bowl for the Baylor quarterback to get under the skin of UW fans. But until then, it’s nearly impossible to find something to dislike about the Bears’ star.

He’s an honor student who earned his degree in three years and aspires to one day attend law school. He’s a former choirboy who proposed to his girlfriend through song — an original tune he wrote for the occasion. He volunteers for charities and welcomes adoring fans, like the two hearing-impaired people who approached him before the Texas game last month.

Griffin told that story when asked about his most entertaining run-in with fans in football-mad Texas.

“I’ve been asked to do many things, whether it’s Heisman poses or things like that,” he said via telephone in a conference call earlier this month, even before he won the award. “One kid asked me to Tebow with him a couple of weeks ago.

“Not really any funny stories, but some impactful stories. Just the other day, before our Texas game, I had two deaf individuals come to me and have a translator who knew sign language come talk to me for about 15 minutes. … I thought that was powerful. Even though they can’t speak, they still did anything they could do to talk to you.”

Griffin is also moved by those who serve their country, which has a lot to do with his upbringing. The son of former army sergeants Robert Jr. and Jacqueline, Robert III was born in Japan and has lived in Okinawa, New Orleans, Copperas Cove, Texas, and even Olympia on his way to Baylor University.

Robert Jr. joined the army as a 17-year-old, partly to serve his country but also because he wanted to get out of the projects of New Orleans, his Heisman-carrying son said.

“He didn’t really have an opportunity to play organized sports because he didn’t have the right shoes to wear,” Robert Griffin III said earlier this month. “He made sure I had everything I was ever going to need.”

Griffin Jr. was the biggest influence on Robert III’s athletic career, but teaching his son how to throw a spiral wasn’t necessary when he introduced the future Heisman winner to football when the younger Robert was in the seventh grade.

“The first time I picked up a football — I’m not trying to sound like I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread — but I’ve always had a really good ability to throw a tight spiral,” the quarterback known universally as “RG3” said. “That’s one thing that my dad’s talked about over the years.”

Robert Griffin III eventually became a star on both the gridiron and the track, where he was once considered an Olympic-caliber hurdler before turning his full attention to football the past couple of years. After turning down scholarship offers from football powerhouses like Texas, academics-first institutions like Stanford, and going through a brief flirtation with Washington State University, Griffin decided to attend the University of Houston because he got along with Cougars coach Art Briles.

After his sophomore season, Briles took a job at Baylor, and the young, unproven quarterback followed. The rest, as they say, is history.

And now Griffin stands above everyone else in Waco, Texas, a city of 120,000 that also includes the best player in women’s college basketball (6-foot-8 dunking machine Brittney Griner) and a probable NBA lottery pick (6-11 sophomore Perry Jones III).

If there is a flaw in Griffin, either as a person or as a football player, UW coach Steve Sarkisian can’t find it.

“I’ve had a chance to look at some film on him, and what a dynamic player,” Sarkisian said. “… He seems like a great kid. Really handles himself extremely well.”

Baylor’s Briles said he’s happy Griffin’s run to the Heisman has afforded the nation the opportunity to get to know his star both on and off the field.

“The funny thing about Robert is that all of a sudden everyone’s getting to know him and see him, and they think that all of a sudden here’s this really good football player,” Briles said. “Well, he’s been that way for the last four years. He didn’t just show up all of a sudden and get good.”

While much of the college football world has only recently gotten to know Griffin, his stature in Waco has gotten even bigger since the Heisman ceremony.

“He’s certainly the talk of the town,” said McCaw, the Baylor athletic director.

On the field, the Huskies hope to be the ones talking after Thursday’s Alamo Bowl. He might be everybody’s All-American, but Griffin will be the enemy for three hours.

“When it comes to game day,” UW senior defensive lineman Everette Thompson said, “it’s football. None of that matters.”

Fueled by a healthy dose of respect, the UW players undoubtedly will try to take out some aggression on the Baylor quarterback Thursday night.

But when it comes to haters, even those in the stands might have a hard time working up the vile for this guy.


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