Attack of the chuckleheads
Everyone told me not to fall in love so quickly, that I’d get my heart broken.
But I couldn’t help it. Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, the stellar Redskins rookies, were such appealing palliatives to our ugly, nihilistic politics and our cascade of lurid sports scandals.
Watching the magnetic newcomers last summer after I returned from covering Jerry Sandusky’s maleficent trial in Bellefonte, Pa., made sports seem fresh again and gave Washington some rare forward momentum. The rookies put their hearts into every single play.
But then, on Sunday, the spell snapped when the knee snapped. Coach Mike Shanahan committed malpractice, letting a hobbled young quarterback lurch around “like a pirate with a peg leg,” as The Washington Post’s Sally Jenkins wrote. The autocratic, crusty 60-year-old, who makes $7 million a year, risked the kid’s career and the team’s future trying to win a wild-card playoff game — the opposite of what the Nationals did with Stephen Strasburg.
At that moment, the Redskins became like the rest of Washington, and the rest of our self-centered, grasshopper-attention-span culture — going for short-term gain and avoiding long-term pain.
Everything they do on Capitol Hill is about getting through the next few months, or next few minutes, or next confrontation. John Boehner, after making a mess of the negotiations with the president, is now talking about raising the debt limit in monthly increments. What’s wrong with weekly, or how about hourly?
Like Congress patching gaping fiscal wounds, the Redskins didn’t seem to fathom that they were damaging the franchise long term. “Trying to win that game, they risked 120 victories over the next 10 years,” the writer David Israel told me. “That’s crazy.”
Shanahan had not been protecting his fearless phenom well all season and had let him start playing again too soon after RGIII sprained a ligament against Baltimore four weeks ago, reinjuring a right knee that had required surgery at Baylor. (Not to mention the concussion he suffered two months prior.)
Dr. James Andrews, the sideline doctor and renowned orthopedic surgeon who was at the game in a goofy hat with pompoms, told USA Today before Sunday’s kickoff that “I’ve been a nervous wreck letting him come back as quick as he has.”
He also said RGIII ran back into the Baltimore game without letting the doctors look at him or talk to him and that “scared the hell out of me.”
Shanahan told reporters that Andrews had given an OK for RGIII to go back in, but that turned out to be just a vague “high sign” from the surgeon as Griffin ran past. In a sport that has learned the horrific long-term impact of concussions, is that the best that can be done to protect headstrong young sports heroes?
The team handed over three first-round draft picks, a second-round pick and $21 million to get RGIII. Shanahan should have known that you don’t leave a life-altering decision to a gung-ho 22-year-old who thinks he’s invincible — a kid who’d never been in the playoffs, amped up on adrenaline and conditioned from childhood to keep playing and to avoid the scorn that comes from fellow players if you opt out without severe enough injuries.
Even though RGIII threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter, it was clear that his knee was not stable. When he couldn’t plant his foot properly to throw a pass, he ran for the yardage; his knee buckled and he fell when nobody had even hit him. He tore off his helmet in a sign of distress.
It was dumb football not to switch to the talented backup quarterback, Kirk Cousins, so the other players would have a chance to move forward and RGIII would not end up in the fourth quarter writhing on the ground, his leg bizarrely twisted, helpless to reach for a low snap at the 5-yard line.
Shanahan said after the game that RGIII — who’s headed to surgery this week, according to ESPN — told him he could play because he was “hurt” but not “injured,” so “that was enough for me.” Such Clintonian parsing makes you wonder if Shanahan was worried about the short life expectancy for losing coaches of Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
In his book “Think Like a Champion,” Shanahan cites an Arabic saying he likes: “He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool. Shun him.”
The negligent coach — and, I’m sad to say, bullheaded quarterback — hurt their team and jeopardized their future.
The once humble RGIII was sounding disturbingly like the legend he has yet to become, saying he had to stay in because he was “the best option for this team” and “you have to step up and be a man.”
As David Israel notes, “They’ve created a cult of personality around this kid. He might be the most personable quarterback in the world, but if he can’t play, no one’s going to want to follow him. In a Boy Scout troop, maybe, but not a football team.”
If I want to see self-serving behavior, warped decision-making, dangerous rationalizations and chuckleheads mortgaging the future, I can go back to watching Congress.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.