What's in a name? For Baylor's other Robert Griffin, quite a bit
By now, the name is so familiar, bordering on ubiquitous. Everybody knows the Robert Griffin story. We've scarcely been able to get enough of it in the months-long buildup to the 2012 NFL Draft.
Ah, but that's where I guess you could say we're in luck (with a lower case l). Because, turns out, there's more to the Robert Griffin story than most of us even knew. And by that I mean there's more than one Robert Griffin. At Baylor, no less. In this very same draft. Ready to chase his NFL dreams. What are the football-lovin' odds?
Robert T. Griffin, aka, "RG2,'' "Deuce,'' or "Big Griff,'' was the "other Robert Griffin'' at Baylor, the senior guard and two-year starter on the offensive line who helped protect and clear the way for RG3, the Bears' Heisman-winning quarterback and soon-to-be top-two pick in the draft. He's got the same name, just not quite the fame or the spectacular game of his wildly famous collegiate teammate. It's confusing, astounding and takes the notion of coincidence to almost absurd new heights.
"I get it all the time when I tell people my name,'' said Griffin on Thursday, taking a break from his pre-draft training at the Michael Johnson Performance Center in McKinney, Tex., north of Dallas. "In Waco (site of Baylor's campus), people know me by now and they don't have any trouble keeping it straight. But when I'm out and about in the Dallas area, I tell people I'm Robert Griffin and play for Baylor, and they say, 'No you don't. You're too big to be RG3. You don't play quarterback.' I've had a lot of people try to tell me I'm not him.''
Not that Robert Torrez Griffin really needs the reminder. When you're an offensive lineman, being overshadowed by the team's star quarterback comes with the gig. But imagine the identity crisis you might be prone to being named Robert Griffin at Baylor, and being one of the five guys tasked with the job of making him look good on game days. In some ways, you're so close and yet so far from the VIP section and the velvet ropes. Almost as if the Miami Heat had a backup point guard named LeBron James, without the headband or pre-game talcum powder ritual.
There are names and stories that go virtually unknown and untold every year in the NFL draft, but that's not exactly Robert Griffin's plight, is it? Being named Robert Griffin at Baylor has probably gotten him noticed to a certain degree, and completely overlooked at the same time. That is, if you can overlook anyone who stands almost 6-foot-6, and weighs 330 pounds.
As his Dallas-based agent, George Bass, told me on Thursday, there have been challenges along the way that came with the name. In writing to NFL teams about his client, Bass tried to ward off as much confusion as possible.
"I always had to make it clear I was talking about Robert T. Griffin,'' Bass said. "The offensive lineman. And then I'd put in parentheses,
"Not RG3'' could have been sewn to the back of Griffin's No. 79 jersey at Baylor. Even the Baylor football website takes all of four sentences to make that clear in their introduction to Griffin's bio, spelling out "No relation to quarterback Robert Griffin III.''
But Griffin and Griffin are related in that football sense that only teammates share. And no one thinks more highly of RG3 than the guy who shares both a name and a wildly successful slice of Baylor football history with him.
"RG3, he's one of a kind,'' Griffin said. "There's no one else like him out there. Michael Jordan can't be like Kobe. And nobody can be like RG3. We have the same name, and we're like brothers. We even have our own handshake. I came to Baylor (as a JUCO transfer in 2010) knowing there was another Robert Griffin there. We actually knew about each other back in high school. He looked on Rivals.com and saw there was a Robert Griffin who weighed 330 pounds and he knew that wasn't him. I looked on there and saw a Robert Griffin who was 6-2, 200 pounds, and I knew that wasn't me.
"I play this game, and he plays this game. Two things are different about us. I use my hands to protect and he uses his hand to throw. He's one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, so he's going to get noticed and rated high in the draft. I'm probably one of about 300 offensive linemen in the draft, so I've got try even harder to get noticed. But I think it's pretty unique and cool that we've known about each other all along.''
There are enough unique aspects to Griffin's game to have gotten him noticed by NFL teams this spring. Though he didn't receive an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February, he started 22 of his 26 games at Baylor at either right guard or right tackle, and was named an All-Big 12 first- or second-team pick by various media outlets and the conference's coaches. He just returned days ago from a visit to the Jets team complex, and said he has received interest from or scheduled visits with the Chargers, Texans, Cowboys, Saints, Jaguars and Panthers.
While his likely path to the NFL is as a collegiate free agent -- and one league personnel man told me he'll definitely be signed -- he at least put himself into play to be a third-day draft pick with a strong showing at the Baylor pro day. RG3 sparkled that day as well, drawing most of the attention in Waco, but league scouts already knew what the likely No. 2 pick in the draft could do. They were there to see the rest of what is the best senior class in Baylor history, and the man they call "Deuce'' showed off some impressive athleticism and a body that has dropped more than 15 pounds during the course of his pre-draft workouts at the Michael Johnson training complex.
"Teams haven't told me much of anything, what round I'll go in, or if I'll be drafted or not,'' Griffin said. "It's all up for grabs, and where I go is in God's hands. I always dreamed when I was a little kid that I'd be one of the top picks and go up to New York for the draft weekend. But I know I'm not going to be there, and I'm not up there in that category with those guys.
"But I do know for a fact that I deserve every chance to be out there playing as much as they do. And whatever team takes me, they're going to be proud of me. I'd love to play anywhere. I told Rex Ryan the other day, I'd love to play for him, because I always play hard for my coach. That's what I do, and that's who I am.''
His famous name aside, who Griffin really is showed through clearly in the final game of his collegiate playing career. He played superbly for Baylor in its scintillating and record-breaking 67-56 Alamo Bowl win over Washington, then flew home the next day to Euless, Tex., to attend the funeral of his mother, Brenda Griffin. She died of cancer at age 52, after battling the disease for a year.
"That was one of my best games, and I was filled with so much emotion and so much intensity,'' said Griffin, whose Bears won their first bowl game since 1992 and reached 10 wins for the first time since 1980. "We went out there determined to have their tongues dragging by the end of the first half. They kept up with us, but we got it done in the end. I played that night with a heavy heart, and I dedicated this season to her. It really hurt to lose her, and it was the toughest thing I've ever gone through, but I was playing for her this year.''
Griffin had wound up at Baylor, playing alongside RG3, because of his mom. He received a scholarship offer from UCLA coming out of high school, but didn't qualify academically and played as a two-year starter in junior college, at Navarro College in Corsicana, Tex. As a transfer, Griffin had schools like Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Miami and Oklahoma State interested in him, but he promised his mom he would stay close to home, choosing in-state Baylor to honor her wishes.
Fortuitously, there was another Robert Griffin already in Waco, and the play of both men helped get each other noticed. On different scales, to be sure, but they each have made their mark, and names for themselves at Baylor.
"I take a lot of pride in my name,'' Griffin said. "And I take a lot of pride in having blocked for him, and helped him get the Heisman. He's the one who had to stay clean, and that was our job. He'll tell you himself, you can't win a Heisman without those five guys up front, without those guys catching the ball, and those guys running the ball. If you look at this Baylor team, there's a lot more to it than just RG3.
"But we knew what we had in him at the beginning of the year. People tried to stop him this season, and they couldn't. He could take people apart with his arm and his accuracy. He blew up this year and won the Heisman, people couldn't stop him. And I know he can go into the NFL and do it there, too. People will see it happen.''
I'm going to defer to RG2 on this one. When it comes to RG3, he's got an insight and a vantage point that's totally unique. I already thought Robert Griffin was the best story in the NFL draft this year, but now I'm doubly convinced.