One night, back when I was Robert Griffin III's age, I drank six glasses of grain alcohol mixed with grape-flavored Juicy Juice. My roommate Anthony said it was a bad idea. My other roommate, Chris, also said it was a bad idea. My closest friend, Daniel, insisted it wasn't merely a bad idea but the worst idea ever. "You barely touch booze," he said. "This won't end well."
"Quiet," I replied. "I can handle it."
That night, in room 102 of Russell Hall A at the University of Delaware, I vomited into a toilet for 45 straight minutes. Anthony, who was kindly holding up my head as the cool water reflected onto my face, repeatedly muttered, "I told you so. ... I told you so."
Alas, I was but a child. I lacked the maturity and wisdom to know what was for my own good.
Sunday evening, during his team's 24-14 playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Griffin, the Washington Redskins' star rookie quarterback, insisted on remaining in the game despite being tossed around like a Raggedy Andy doll with the stuffing yanked out of its legs. During the first half, Griffin reinjured his previously sprained right knee after falling awkwardly while rolling out of the pocket. He rose gingerly and moments later could be seen behind the Redskins' bench, having tape applied.
This was nothing new for the kid. Earlier this season, in a December 9 game against the Ravens, Griffin sprained his lateral collateral ligament, missed the following week and returned with an awkwardly fitted black brace wrapped around the knee.
This time, with the season on the line, Griffin and Mike Shanahan, Washington's coach, engaged in a halftime conversation. According to Shanahan, the quarterback told him, "Coach, there's a difference between being injured and hurt. I can guarantee you I'm hurt right now. Give me a chance to win this football game, because I guarantee I'm not injured."
So Griffin – in his "six glasses of grain alcohol mixed with grape-flavored Juicy Juice" moment – returned. And was pummeled. His once Willie Gault-esque speed was gone. His tight spirals had been replaced by Ryan Lindley-esque ducks. It reminded one not of a football game so much as the 1982 heavyweight title fight between Larry Holmes and Randall (Tex) Cobb, the one where Cobb left the ring so bloodied and beaten that Howard Cosell never again worked the sport.
Much like prize fighters, defensive football players are trained to locate an opponent's weakness and exploit it. If a guy's arm is black and blue, nail it with the crown of your helmet. If a linemen is having trouble seeing with his left eye, gouge the right. There Sunday, in the pummeled form of RGIII, stood a walking, talking weakness. A battered quarterback, defenseless without his tools.
The Seahawks, rightly, exploited it.
When Shanahan heard Griffin's plea, he should have looked across the locker room at his son, Kyle Shanahan, who serves as the team's offensive coordindator. Were RGIII his son (and not merely his quarterback), would he have sent him back on the field, sans a leg? Would he have forced Kyle to face one of the NFL's most vicious defenses without a full arsenal? Shanahan should have thought of all the retired NFL players who can no longer walk, can no longer drive, can no longer feed themselves, who – in the name of toughness and staying on the field – are pathetic shells of their former selves.
It has been reported that, earlier in the season, James Andrews, the renowned orthopedist, never cleared Griffin to play against the Ravens, that Shanahan had ignored proper protocols in the name of winning a stupid football game. (Shanahan disputes this, however.)
But if Andrews had not cleared Griffin to play, the Redskins organization should be ashamed.
If that's the case, Robert Griffin III shouldn't be asking himself whether he can play.
He should be asking himself whether anyone in power cares for his well-being.
(Jeff Pearlman is the author of "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton." He blogs at jeffpearlman.com. Follow him on Twitter.)