Monday, January 25, 2016

Washington Social Diary: That Year, 2012

The blizzard at its peak on Saturday afternoon in Georgetown.
by Carol Joynt

First, The Blizzard

Everyone experiences a weather event in their own way. In Georgetown, for me, it was about stocking up on food and drink, firewood, a new car battery, snagging the last pair of water proof gloves in the neighborhood, and making sure the heating system would keep working, as it was dodgy earlier in the week. With friends I started the blizzard with a late Friday lunch at the bar at Bourbon Steak, where we ate burgers and duck fat fries and watched the snow on TV as it also began to fall outside because, you know, its a thing.
The blizzard as it started on Friday afternoon around 3 p.m.
That same view on Saturday around 10 a.m.
That same view Sunday at noon.
Then 48 hours as a near shut-in at my house, with brisket, chicken chili, meat loaf, smoked salmon, martinis, hot buttered rum, Champagne — though, not all at the same time. Periodic visits from neighbors, or suiting up to go outside to gauge the snow, dig, or walk over to Wisconsin Avenue to shoot some photos. For entertainment, a "Downton Abbey" all-seasons binge followed by a refreshing dose of the excellent "Straight Outta Compton." I will say this for Washington's city leaders, starting with Mayor Muriel Bowser, the plows came often, and by Sunday morning many streets were in good shape. What remains, though, is what to do with the mountains of plowed snow? I may not see my car until spring.
The plows came often during the blizzard, but those mounds are buried cars.
A lot of digging to do ...
This is typically a "social " column and not a sports column, but yesterday we got our Super Bowl teams — the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers — and it is the championship's 50th anniversary and, like more than 100 million others I will be watching. I am a sports fan in a city where sports, especially football, can connect up with social life. It happens on game days in the owners' suites, with guests from the White House, Capitol Hill, the elite media, servers in black tie, cocktails made to order, and a buffet with everything from hot dogs to roast beef and sushi and cookies iced with the team logo.

On Super Bowl Sunday I'll be cheering for Denver, where I was born, but I grew up with the Washington Redskins — even once dated a Redskin — and have had the good fortune to watch many games with family, friends, a crowd in a bar or some fine seats at the stadium.
The Redskins biggest and most controversial fan: team owner Dan Snyder.
I’m loyal. Or, at least I was loyal. The past few years used up most of my patience and good will. It’s not entirely about the name fiasco, though owner Dan Snyder’s intransigence about changing the name is what started the strain on my loyalty. It seemed so simple — the name is racist, let it go. The basketball team changed its name from “Bullets” to “Wizards” and so what? As a society we change, adapt and grow; where we once were ignorant we become more aware, and in recent times this has applied especially to race and equality.

What used up my patience with the Redskins, though, is what I think of all the time as “that year,” 2012, the year of Robert Griffin III, a year that still beguiles, confuses and frustrates. It's a year that went from awesome to awful, and in time, when those involved are willing to tell the truth, it will be a riveting sports story.
Redskins head coach Jay Gruden.
It began at the 2012 NFL draft, when Washington selected Griffin as their new franchise quarterback. He was already a college superstar, a Heisman Trophy winner out of Baylor and the #2 draft pick after Andrew Luck.

In Washington we didn’t know much about him but we were enthused. That enthusiasm turned to runaway joy and optimism once we saw RGIII perform in the regular season. He was magic. He was exciting. He was like nothing any of us — in or out of Washington, or in or out of the NFL — had seen before. Because of a stunning and winning performance against the New Orleans Saints in his first regular season start he was named NFL Offensive Player of the week.
RGIII, celebrating a successful play.
The city lit up. For those of us old enough to remember the glory days in the '80s of head coach Joe Gibbs, running back John Riggins and the “The Hogs,” quarterback Joe Theismann, and multiple Super Bowl trophies, this was on that level and with the promise of being so much more. The promise of RGIII tamped down the griping about the team name, about the awful stadium, and Snyder, who has a relationship with Washington fans that would be considered love/hate except it is mostly hate. Why is a whole other chapter, or two.

That year, 2012, compounded itself every week, getting better and better. There were some downs, but mostly only ups, big ups. With each game Griffin earned more accolades as “Player of the Week” and “Rookie of the Week.” Against Philadelphia he achieved a perfect passer rating. At only 22 he was the youngest player ever to earn that. The fans were giddy. He charmed in interviews and on social media. Everyone wanted to get to a game, to be near him, to meet him, to get a piece of him.
Draft darling — the SI April 2012 cover. Media darling — RGIII in a 2013 GQ cover.
Ad darling — RGIII Subway ad.
The homer sportscasters and writers couldn’t laude him enough, of course, but throughout the NFL it was like that. Football fans nationwide were besotted with him, and sales of his jersey — #10 — soared. Even his socks became a thing.

What happened next is the part that confuses and frustrates. He started to get banged up. There was an earlier concussion, but then against the Baltimore Ravens, in game 14 of the regular season, a tackle left him with a twisted knee, out of the game and replaced by backup Kirk Cousins. He rehabbed for only a week and was back on the field. Was he fully healed? Who knows? The question hasn’t been answered. The Redskins won their division and made it into the play-offs, with a first round home game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Re-injuring his knee in the NFC playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, ending the remarkable 2012 season.
I was at that game. Even before the kick off it was possible to see that Griffin was limping slightly. He didn’t appear 100% and we know now he wasn’t. In play he got taken down, his knee re-injured, and to the horror of fans, practically crawled off the field. It is a haunting memory.

There’s a lot of controversy about whether he should have played in that Wild Card game, who gave or didn’t give permission, whether he was appropriately screened by the team doctor, whether head coach Mike Shanahan should be held responsible. It was a heated frenzy of finger-pointing, and fan debate, which did not subside through the off-season, as Griffin — now named NFL 2012 “Rookie of the Rear” — underwent ACL and LCL surgery and then spent the summer working his way back to what would pass for game-playing shape.
CJ and RGIII at the Redskins practice bubble in Ashburn, VA, in the summer of 2013.
Grffin and I met at the end of that summer, during a photo shoot in the practice facility at Redskins Park. He was flanked by PR and coaches, and to even get close to say hello was a negotiated event. But once we were allowed to talk he was friendly and at ease. We compared knee surgeries. I’d had a couple of ACL surgeries from sports, albeit cheerleading, injuries. He showed me his scar. I came to the shoot a fan, and I left as a bigger fan. A few weeks later I attended the annual “Welcome Home” luncheon, for the team and fans, at National Harbor. There was cautious optimism for the season ahead.
Robert Griffin III arrives at the "Welcome Home" luncheon for fans and team.
Kirk Cousins.
At the "welcome home" luncheon, a fan wearing his RGIII .
Happier times in a bad marriage: the Redskins "welcome home" luncheon in August 2013. Bruce Allen, Robert Griffin III, Dan Snyder, Mike Shanahan.
Shanahan did play him in the 2013 season, but he wasn’t ready. He did not play the whole season and was replaced by Cousins for the last three games. Mike Shanahan was fired, replaced by Jay Gruden, who had been offensive coordinator for the Bengals. The 2014 season got off to a bad start when Griffin dislocated his ankle, but after he rehabbed and got back on the field he had some winning, and hopeful, performances. Did it seem that Griffin was injury prone? Absolutely. It sometimes was hard to watch a game for fear of what might happen next, but there’s also an argument that he was never allowed to take the time to fully heal, and the blame gets spread around for that, too.
On the field for the regular season opener, September 2013.
The Redskins come onto the field, with RGIII as quarterback, in 2013.
Monday Night Football, live from FedEx Field, 2013.
Team president Bruce Allen (son of former Redskins coach George Allen), making his pre-game rounds.
As a Griffin defender, I was skeptical about Gruden. His brother, John Gruden, an ESPN commentator and former NFL coach, had bad-mouthed Griffin as early as his stunning rookie year. There was a sense of like brother, like brother, as Jay Gruden, who does not have a poker face, struggled to hide his dislike for Griffin. Any verbal support for Griffin seemed forced or scripted. Griffin would counter with his own media statements. You didn’t have to be in the room with them to sense there was no chemistry between head coach and franchise quarterback. When a large number of the sports reporting community jumped on the anti-Griffin bandwagon, it felt like a movement.
Kirk Cousins and Robert Griffin III.
Gruden was as positive about Kirk Cousins as he was negative about Robert Griffin, and it came as no surprise this season when, after some fits and starts with Griffin, he changed course and named Cousins as the starter. Cousins had a good year, 9-7, making the Redskins the NFC East division champs, and they got into the first round of the play-offs, where they lost to Green Bay. It’s expected he’ll be back next year as Washington’s quarterback and it’s easy to wish him well. For one thing, Cousins and his wife, Julie, foster stray dogs until they find a home. That’s not football, but it’s likable.
Shades of the split to come — Dan Snyder and Mike Shanahan, not seeing eye-to-eye.
What remains troublesome to this day is the way many local sports reporters, and a lot of fans, turned against Griffin. The argument that his critics made about him is that he was never meant to be an NFL quarterback. That he didn’t have the skills or maturity. His play, before he got injured, proved something else. But what came across is that the team, (owner, management, coaches), had a bright shiny new toy that was the envy of toyland, that they let it get broke, blamed the toy, and kicked the toy to the back of the toy box. If this were “Toy Story,” the Redskins would be Sid, not Andy.

There have been accusations that racism fuels the turn against Griffin. There’s nothing to point to, but it's a fair question. The Redskins have a fierce fan base, but it's not lily-white, and even African American fans are among those who have bashed Griffin. Still, the team feels more and more like a Virginia team, with the headquarters in Ashburn and the summer camp in Richmond. There’s an effort to get the Redskins to move back into DC, but maybe they should go to Richmond and let Washington start fresh with a new team (and team name!)
Another die-hard Redskins fan is actor Matthew McConaughhey, here with Griffin.
Griffin, to his credit, spent the entire 2015 regular season on the sidelines and didn’t bitch, and he mostly avoided media of all kinds, including social media. Since arriving in Washington he had married and also became a father to a baby girl. Maturity often follows those kinds of life events.

But here it is the end of January and another Redskins season is officially over. Robert Griffin III appears to be over, too. He packed up his locker and departed Redskins Park and by most accounts will be released by the team in the next weeks.
With his wife, Rebecca, and new baby daughter, RGIII posted this photo to announce the birth in May of last year.
A family Christmas photo, 2015.
That needs to happen the same way Prince Charles and Princess Diana needed to end their bad marriage. Time to move on. I will miss him. I  hope he is picked up by Washington’s chief rival, the Dallas Cowboys (he is from Texas), or the San Francisco 49ers, somewhere that is worthy of him. Maybe he won’t be a starter, maybe he’ll be back-up, but he’ll get a second chance. He deserves that.

He may be effectively gone, but RGIII remains an ongoing topic on sports talk radio, TV sports broadcasts and in newspaper columns. The Redskins continue to sell his jerseys online among other logowear. He will, of course, have a place in Washington sports history and his year of glory will be debated indefinitely. That year, 2012. Funny how it was only a year, and now it feels like the end of era.
Hoping for better days, post-Redskins.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt