Halfway through The Season After, it’s clear that the 2012 Baylor Bears Football season has left the afterglow of the remarkable 2011 campaign. Our Daily Bears has tried to bring you consistent, insightful coverage of this year’s team without flooding you with links and information from past players ranging from Jason Smith to Kendal Wright. However, while an incredibly important game in Ames is nearing, the looming specter of games against Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech and the possibility of missing out on bowl eligibility after two or three thoroughly disappointing conference games has left me…not despondent, but needing a brief respite before returning to analyzing the X’s and O’s of a team that doesn’t really need it.*
So, let’s put the 2012 team out of our mind for a moment. Let’s focus on something happier. In fact, let’s focus on the happiest. Robert Griffin III. The singular player whose shadow will long be cast over our football program (and hopefully, over our new stadium), I’m sure every Baylor fan has thought about him while watching our (still fantastic offensively) team this year. I know that there are some here who do not follow the NFL, or perhaps the NFC, so let me get everybody caught up:
Baylor’s favorite son is becoming the NFL’s favorite son.
One of the things that was always remarkable to me about Robert was that even when Baylor beat it’s opponent on a given weekend, there seemed to be a respect-bordering-on-crush by fans of the vanquished team for Robert. From Texas Tech to UT to OU to TCU, it seemed that the most vitriol that could be gathered after the game was naught but a shake of the head, wry smile that usually gave way to simple wonderment at the complete package that was Robert Griffin III. I’m sure that part of it came from his highlight reel plays, part from his general humility and team-first attitude before, during, and after the game, and probably a decent part of it came from wanting to see a downtrodden program like Baylor finally have something nice happen to it. A well-spoken, Heisman winning, highly drafted QB? Yeah, that’s pretty nice.
But, I admit, I was nervous about the transition to the NFL. While the Big 12 is hardly in a media black hole, the level of scrutiny increases dramatically at that level, especially considering the pressure that would be placed on Robert due to the package of draft picks that the ShannaClan gave up for his rights. That means more overreaction to a bad game, a bad quarter, a bad throw, a bad read. That means more "narratives". That means race cards, overreactions to overhyping, real life value vs fantasy value debates, and numerous other inanities that bear little to no relevancy to winning or what makes Robert so special. I was worried that bigger, faster defenders would do permanent damage to Robert before he had time to acclimate and succeed.
I was…silly. Perhaps not quite so far as being overprotective, given his concussion, but Robert has performed fantastically in his short time in the NFL so far. It’s clear that the ShannaClan are invested in his success and tailoring an offensive scheme that is best suited for him. It’s not just that he’s playing well for a rookie; he’s just playing really, really well, period full stop.
Even if we remove his incredible running skills from the equation, Griffin is easily on pace to set the record for rookie passing efficiency. His 101.8 individual rating puts the Redskins third right now in team-wide Offensive Passer Rating, behind Green Bay's Rodgers (109.6) and Denver's Manning (105.0).
Griffin's most impressive skill, meanwhile, is his deadly accuracy. He displayed this accuracy last season during his Heisman-winning season at Baylor, completing an incredible 72.4 percent of his passes.
He's picked up right where he left. RGIII is accurate not just by the standards of a rookie quarterback, but by the standards of the most precise passers in history.
Top 5 most accurate passing seasons in NFL history (min. 150 attempts):
Drew Brees (2011) -- 468 of 657 (71.23 percent)
Drew Brees (2009) -- 363 of 514 (70.62)
Ken Anderson (1982) -- 218 of 309 (70.55)
Robert Griffin III (2012) -- 133 of 189 (70.37)
Sammy Baugh (1945) -- 128 of 182 (70.33)
SI/Cold Hard Football Facts has him as the top rated QB in their Real QB Rating metric. He is the top rated fantasy football player, regardless of position, in standard scoring leagues. He has already generated one meme, Griffining, and hasn’t wilted under the pressure of leading a struggling franchise with a terrible defense.
Given that, it’s not surprising that RG3 is generating a lot of interest. America, especially American Sports, loves the next great thing. However, this goes beyond the normal hype and awe at a player’s physical gifts. His talent combined with his personality and leadership have caused not just the Redskins fans to fall in love with him, but a growing portion of NFL fans in general.
In a political season that has seen everything from shouting matches masquerading as Presidential debates to attack ads that highlight the worst in American politics, there are few things that can bring President Obama and Governor Romney together. One of those things? Robert, of course.
"RGIII hasn’t been in Washington very long, but he’s already created change," Romney said.
"It’s tough to unite this city around anything," Obama said. "Believe me, I know. But RGIII makes it look easy."
President Obama would go on to take Robert up on that pickup basketball game that Robert mentioned on a previous trip to the White House. But perhaps you’ve ignored the political season and don’t realize how few things these candidates will be seen publicly agreeing on. So what about his professional enemies? The rival New York Giants and their fantastic defensive line did everything short of openly mock the idea that RG3 was anything more than the flavor of the week who would be crushed when facing a real, old school defense. After the game, which they won despite RG3 scoring one almost-game-winning TD?
"I'm pretty mad at the football gods for putting him in the NFC East," the New York Giants' star defensive end [Justin Tuck] said after his first game against [RG3]. "To face that guy twice a year is definitely going to be a headache."
Yes, the Giants were rattled and dazzled and thoroughly impressed by a rookie phenom who is accomplishing the nearly impossible feat of living up to his own hype…
Griffin left his mark. Tuck said he'd take him over Michael Vick or Cam Newton if he were starting an offense. Osi Umenyiora called Griffin the best quarterback the Giants have played this year. Chris Canty said he was faster in person than on tape, and predicted that Griffin was going to have "a lot of success in this league."
Once again, we see Robert has that ability to (almost) beat a team and yet still leave them with little bit nice things to say about him afterwards. How about some compliments from his teammates? Sure, sure, his teammates are biased, but even adjusting for that, I think most can agree this is pretty crazy:
"You really can’t say much more," [Redskins Tight End Fred ] Davis said. "I mean, like I said, he’s Black Jesus right now. He saved us today. He’s a great player. He makes plays. And he did what he had to do on that third down. We’ve been talking about him protecting himself a lot more, but he seen an opening and made a play. And what can you say? I mean, he’s a great player."
It’s not just players and politicians who have been wowed, even grizzled sports writers have been beyond impressed by a rookie who shows not just knowledge, but true wisdom, beyond his years.
"Like I told people, you stay aggressive but you just try to be smart," he said. "…One time, I ran up the middle and I slid for seven yards. You got to live with that and not worry about the eight or nine yards you could have got taking the hit. I told the team I wasn't going to leave them hanging, and I tried to make sure I did that today."
This is a remarkably sophisticated answer for a rookie. In fact, it's a remarkably sophisticated answer for anyone. For years, the prevailing ethic among NFL players was that a player's primary obligation was to stay on the field no matter how seriously they were injured. This created a code of self-destructive omertà, the results of which you can see limping around the various Super Bowl buffets, blankly looking for the wives they left behind a minute and a half ago. What Griffin is arguing here is that he owed it to his teammates to be honest with himself and with his doctors about whether he was ready to play. That honesty about his condition was his primary obligation as a teammate….
It is not an overstatement to call this a sea change...
Ultimately, because it is primarily up to the players to make this change, to rebel in this most basic way against the old ethic of suffering, it is this next generation of players who will decide whether the NFL will continue to prosper or to slip back into something atavistic and increasingly strange. Robert Griffin III is a great football player because he is careful, with the ball and with his head. He is the future, or there is none at all.
Finally, SBN’s own Andrew Sharp first notes how the RG3 crush is spreading beyond the Redskins fanbase:
I'm not even a Redskins fan, but I can't watch him play without quietly freaking out every time he gets hit. He's the most exciting player in football right now, and should be for the next 10 years as long as his body doesn't get shattered somewhere along the way.
After two months watching him and getting hooked and hoping nothing horrible happens, the only thing we can say for certain is that RGIII is the first player to make all our abstract Football Fears real. Where he's everyone's favorite son, and every big hit is another opportunity for a concussion that leaves us holding our breath, and we worry whether he can survive the NFL.
And there it is. Perhaps I was silly to be concerned or overprotective, but at the very least, I’m not the only one. I know it’s strange for fanatics of what is ostensibly a team sport, but when you become so attached to a player, all of a sudden even the importance of the game fades. Sharp’s close is hauntingly accurate, so I’ll let him close for me as well.
It's easy to trick yourself into forgetting that NFL players are actual humans until you fall in love with one of them, and then all the talk about player safety becomes more than just lipservice. Then you're addicted to the most exciting player the NFL's seen in years, and you remember him flying past the Vikings or embarrassing the Giants, and you realize that if the NFL cripples him one day, this is the player who could maybe make you swear off pro football forever.
Holy shit he's awesome, and that's what makes this so terrifying.