DC’s trash could be Cleveland Browns’ sweet treasure
By Roger Cohen
The Cleveland Browns may have found a treasure in discarded quarterback Robert Griffin III.
I now understand the term “having your phone blow up.”
When the Cleveland Browns signed quarterback Robert Griffin III on Thursday, the calls and texts came pouring in. From the halls of Congress, from former work colleagues I’d lost touch with, texts from distant area codes – each one more “I can’t believe the Browns” incredulous than the last.
All dissed the Browns, except the one from Joel Kravitz, my junior high buddy and best man at my wedding. (Some back-in-the-day Dawg Pound Daily readers may remember Joel from his years behind the counter at Broken Wheel Auto Parts on West 130th.)
Wearing my Browns gear around Washington, D.C., I saw the RG3 tsunami coming for weeks once rumors of a Browns-RG3 hookup surfaced: at the gym; the grocery checkout; even my dentist remarked that, “so Manziel wasn’t bad enough, you want our garbage?”
The only hue Browns fans care about is head coach Hue Jackson, and the community will deify any quarterback regardless of race, religion or partisan leaning who can get the team to .500.
Redskinism may no longer be the dominant religion around D.C., but where I live in Northern Virginia remains the team’s mecca. Our neighbor is a former captain of the Redskinettes, my tennis partner the team’s public relations vice president. I used to see Joe Theismann at T-ball, my son, Dan, has detailed ‘Skins fancy cars, and our close friends bought Joe Gibbs’ house – located on, no joke, Coach Road.
All the time, a quarter century, I’ve silently rooted against the Redskins – especially during RG3 Mania.
When the Redskins traded away three years of high draft choices (thankfully outbidding the Browns) to pick Griffin at No. 2 overall, the nation’s capital embraced its new messiah, capped by a Washington Post full-page poster of RG3, his arms upraised Jesus-like – before he had taken his first regular-season snap.
The nation elected Barack Obama in the fall of 2012, making the president the second most-important African-American in town. RG3 even blew off dinner with President Obama to pal around with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder (whose unpopularity inside the Capital Beltway bottoms out at Jimmy Haslam, maybe even Art Modell levels).
It was all about RG3, all the time, coming across phonier than the faux sandwiches he hawked. Four seasons of overblown self-absorbed hype, capped off by his smarmy “farewell note” to ‘Skins fans. Yuck.
RG3 and Johnny Football share the Heisman self-importance, but not an aberrant lifestyle, nor the criminal cloud or personal demons.
But as much as I took schadenfreude in the Redskins’ Griffin-induced misery, consider …
- The investment saved when the Browns’ didn’t trade their future (although that didn’t work out so great either) for RG3 before the 2012 draft. Mike Holmgren’s only sound decision.
- While evil genius Kyle Shanahan takes credit for when he called Redskin plays and despite all Griffin’s flaws as a pocket passer, No. 10 made all the throws and plenty of “gee whiz” plays to earn NFL Rookie of the Year honors in 2012.
- RG3 might never have become a Brown if former Washington head coach Mike Shanahan hadn’t committed criminal abuse during the team’s home playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Griffin carried the Redskins on his back to a 14-point lead, and then gruesomely tore his ACL before halftime. A national TV audience cringed as Shanahan The Elder refused to pull RG3, even though the quarterback wasn’t just limping, he was crippled (think concussed Colt McCoy or shoulder torn Josh McCown, only worse). But the ego-driven, compulsively stubborn Shanahans kept sending Griffin into the game instead of Virginia Hospital Center, where he eventually spent weeks after the game.
- If the Shanahans had just done the humane, common sense thing and had backup quarterback Kirk Cousins hand the ball off for a couple of possessions, the Redskins may have won a Super Bowl, a healthy Griffin would have signed the NFL’s richest contract, and the Browns would have probably had to surrender multiple high picks to trade for Cousins.
Despite the prevailing D.C. opinion that Griffin and the laughingstock Browns deserve one another – Browns Nation may differ:
- RG3 comes at a cheap price by NFL standards. A former Heisman winner, NFL Rookie of the Year, a playoff quarterback with a better resume than McCown, Austin Davis and Connor Shaw combined.
- Griffin arrives in Cleveland with some baggage, but it’s only a small carry-on compared to the steamer trunk full of mishigoss Johnny Manziel brought to Cleveland and left circling on the Hopkins International Airport luggage carousel. RG3 and Johnny Football share the Heisman self-importance, but not an aberrant lifestyle, nor the criminal cloud or personal demons.
- Griffin is a world-class athlete – faster and with a stronger arm than any current Browns’ quarterback. He would have been the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, except for that Andrew Luck guy.
But it was my best man Joel, now living in RG3’s hometown of Houston, who identified two hidden benefits Griffin brings to the shores of Lake Erie. To protect the Redskins from paying a $15 million injury guarantee, Griffin watched every 2015 game in street clothes as Cousins and McCoy won the NFC East title. He’s enjoyed a full season to physically heal and mentally recharge.
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Griffin also brings something else uniquely intriguing to Believeland from Washington D.C. (affectionately termed Chocolate City) and the Redskins loyal African-American fanbase.
The Cleveland Browns were the first NFL franchise to embrace black players; the team plays on the same ground as did the first black American Leaguer Larry Doby and major league baseball’s first black manager, Frank Robinson; in the first major American city to elect a black mayor, Carl Stokes. Yet, over more than 1,000 Browns regular season and playoff games, only 20 contests were started by an African-American QB – four by David Mays in 1977, eight by Jason Campbell in 2013, one by Spergon Wynn in 2000 and seven by Seneca Wallace between 2010 and 2011.
Without diving headlong and politically incorrectly into identity politics – but not ignoring facts, while African-Americans comprise a majority in the city of Cleveland, my 50-plus-year season ticket holder eyeballs tell me people of color represent a much smaller and shrinking percentage of FirstEnergy Stadium attendees for a host of economic, social and demographic reasons.
One can only look to the team’s current hideous uniforms to recognize Browns Nation doesn’t discriminate on color. The only hue Browns fans care about is head coach Hue Jackson, and the community will deify any quarterback regardless of race, religion or partisan leaning who can get the team to .500. But wouldn’t it would be special if another of Cleveland’s racial “firsts” were a Super Bowl winning quarterback?
Given this year’s rebuilding-again team, it probably won’t be RG3. But it didn’t cost the Browns anything to get him – a risk-free, it’s only April fantasy for fans to dream until reality bites come September.