Thursday night the Redskins hold the second overall selection in the NFL Draft. The last time Washington held that pick was eight years ago when the team famously traded to land Robert Griffin III. Below is part of a series of reflections on RG3's rookie year. JP Finlay wrote on Monday on the night Washington traded with the Rams to get the second spot. Next up, Mitch Tischler on what it was like being embedded with the young quarterback for an early series of interviews leading up to and after he was drafted.
Bouncing down a dusty road in the heart of Cowboys country, it was surprising to see a Redskins banner flying high. That has always been one of my enduring memories leading up to the drafting of Robert Griffin III.
Two days before Griffin’s Pro Day on March 21, 2012, our crew landed in Dallas after a massive thunderstorm re-routed our scheduled flight to San Antonio. Two hours north, two hours south, it didn’t matter. The expectation was the same. We were headed to Robert’s hometown right in the middle, Copperas Cove, where we’d spend some time before driving to Waco for an exclusive interview with Griffin III and to cover his showcase at Baylor
The airline, which I guess should remain anonymous, not only dropped us in the wrong city but lost our luggage, too. We had to rent a car and get a hotel room in Dallas. The trip might have started off a zoo, but the excitement surrounding it was off the charts.
Between the time the trade was announced on March 9 and the Redskins drafting RGIII on April 26 was a pretty wild time for DC sports. I had just come back from the Nationals’ spring training in Viera, Fla., where Bryce Harper was prepping for his first season in the big leagues. The Capitals were wrapping up their fifth consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs. And yet a kid from small-town Texas was leading every sportscast and talk radio show.
Driving into Copperas Cove we stopped and had breakfast at a sleepy diner. Once seated, our waitress – in the most perfect Texas drawl - started eagerly telling us about how great RGIII was. Turns out, we didn’t find a single person who had anything but glowing things to say about their native son. They say everything’s bigger in Texas. Well, the effusiveness with which he was talked about lived up to the hype.
Jack Welch, the head football coach at Copperas Cove High, took us on a tour of the school. What stood out to me the most about it wasn’t all of the athletic accomplishments, but the impact Griffin III had on everyone from Welch to the school secretary. The tour didn’t stop there. We drove down to the house Robert grew up in and traced the route that his father, Robert Griffin, Jr., had Robert train, running, flipping tires. To say it was quintessential Texas is an understatement.
On to Waco where, as had become the norm, excitement reigned whenever folks asked us what brought us to town and we gave the answer. Stepping onto Baylor’s campus, we talked with then-coach Art Briles, who told us in no uncertain terms that we would love the man Robert Griffin III far more than the player. That was saying a lot for someone who had won the Heisman Trophy three months earlier. Then came our time with Robert. With a hearty handshake and the flash of his million-dollar smile, you just knew he was going to take D.C. by storm.
Griffin’s Pro Day was electric, but for all the camera flashes and buzz it was one fleeting, flirting moment that stuck out. After finishing his workout with a 65-yard bomb and a hand-grenade endzone celebration, Griffin playfully jabbed at a ball then-Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was holding. In that moment, regardless of how history was later rewritten, you could tell there was legitimate excitement from the head coach and the quarterback.
As an aside, after the trade was made our Redskins crew at the time had an RGIII “swear jar” where every time you referred to him by that nickname, you had to put a buck in the pot. Thank god that was eight years ago, because this blog post alone would have cost me a small fortune back then.
Fast forward to draft week in New York, multiple NFL events featuring 20-plus first-round prospects and current players, and no one stood taller than Robert. Crowds followed him wherever he went: At the NFL’s Play 60 event, security tried to hold back kids attempting to get near him, but Griffin stopped and signed autographs for every one of them. He embraced his celebrity in the best possible way.
While all of this was happening during draft week, the Caps were in Game 7 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Boston Bruins. The night before the draft, one prominent D.C. sports media personality took upon himself to jump up on a table at a bar to lead a “C-A-P-S!” chant after Joel Ward netted the series-winning goal in overtime. What this has to do with RGIII, I’m not entirely sure. But it was a crazy night and a crazy week in New York.
Come draft day all eyes were on the soon-to-be Redskins QB…and his socks. With Andrew Luck parading down the red carpet, RGIII stepped out of his town car. All eyes, cameras and attention turned toward him. With a sly wink, he lifted his pant leg teasing burgundy and gold socks.
It’s amazing that something seemingly so mundane became the buzz of NFL Draft Twitter. Bigger than that was his recognition of the moment as he caught up with Luck and posed with the presumed No. 1 pick. Griffin’s enormous personality enveloped those around him. He even got the straight-laced Luck to ham it up for the cameras.
The pick came and went and though he couldn’t quite get his new Redskins hat to fit over his signature plaits, Griffin’s thousand-watt smile projected across Radio City Music Hall. In a back room, we waited for our post-draft interview. Redskins senior vice president of communications, Tony Wyllie - you probably know him as the “No means no” guy - brought Robert to us amidst a throng of reporters. When I say throng, I mean literally hundreds of reporters and cameramen from all over the world were waiting for their chance to talk with RGIII.
With the hoard at my back, we had our own five minutes with the newest Redskins star and in my not-so-proudest work moment, my camera battery died mid-interview. God bless him, RGIII waited for me to change batteries, didn’t miss a beat and finished the interview.
Back to D.C. we went and to the team draft-day party, which felt like a coronation long in the making. Despite the rain, FedEx Field was rocking and Griffin III took the stage in front of raucous fans chanting “R-G-III!” over and over. He couldn’t have loved the moment more, goading the fans to be louder. Then he took the mic and led everyone in singing Hail to the Redskins.
From there the love affair between Robert Griffin III and Washington, D.C. was on.
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