By John Pappas
He is one of the most recognized names in professional football. He has his own Gatorade commercial. He’s done the Tonight Show. His jersey was tops in sales this past May. And he has never taken a snap in the NFL.
The Lombardi Trophy may be in New York, but football excitement this preseason is in Washington and surrounds Robert Griffin III. Fans will get their first look at Griffin this Thursday when the team hosts the first open practice of training camp. The Redskins have announced 13 practices open to the public this camp. Expect Thursday’s open session to be before a capacity crowd.
Griffin is the most anticipated rookie in Washington since, well, maybe ever. Sammy Baugh arrived with the same expectation of greatness, but the team and media were different then. The Redskins had just arrived in Washington from Boston in 1937, and football was nowhere close to being the preeminent sport in America. Television was in its infancy and there was no such thing as a 24-hour sports news-cycle.
Griffin on the other hand, seems tailor-made for the modern NFL. He appears to have as much potential in front of a camera as he does behind center. He was a big-time playmaker at Baylor with small-town humility. He comes from great stock, is smart and articulate, and is the most talked-about rookie throughout the league.
For fans in Washington, he is the one they have been waiting for. Griffin enjoys almost universal acceptance among Redskins’ fans – close to unheard of in this political town. Sonny Jurgensen may be one of the most beloved Redskins, but he was part of one of the fiercest quarterback controversies along with Billy Kilmer, with fans splitting their support among the two.
Interest is not limited to supporters of the team. Media credentials for Redskins training camp have flooded in – to the extent the team is limiting the number of credentials it is issuing. And the team took the additional step of publishing Griffin’s media availability for the entire camp in a press release.
Beyond training camp, the most anticipated event will be Griffin’s debut in an actual game. Fans don’t have long to wait. Two weeks from Thursday Washington debuts in the preseason against Buffalo. Had the schedule-makers been kind to Washington and scheduled it at FedEx Field, we may have witnessed a genuine sellout in the preseason with all seats filled. As it stands Griffin’s initial performances will have some bearing on later preseason attendance.
But it is going to take a lot to dampen excitement for this quarterback. And Griffin will enjoy a lot more latitude with supporters than recent starters Rex Grossman, Donovan McNabb and Jason Campbell. Expectations are for Griffin to finally turn the franchise around – though few think it will happen overnight.
In the meantime, folks are lining up to catch their first glimpse of Griffin. If you can’t get in to see him in person don’t worry; reports on his progress will be hard to miss.