New Orleans Saints fans saw firsthand the impact Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has on his football team. The 2012 season began with Griffin and his Redskins beating the Black and Gold 40-32 in the Superdome.
Griffin passed for 320 yards and a pair of touchdowns in that game and rushed for 42 yards on nine carries. That was just the start of his fantastic rookie season, one that saw RG3 lead Washington to seven straight wins and a playoff spot.
For the year, Griffin tallied 3,200 yards passing and 815 yards rushing, but his aggressive style got him banged up. He suffered a concussion in a contest with the Atlanta Falcons Oct. 7 and missed the following game against the Minnesota Vikings. During the Dec. 9 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, he took a hit to his right knee that forced him to miss the next game against the Cleveland Browns due to a sprained lateral collateral ligament (LCL).
In the wild card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, Griffin injured it further in the first quarter but kept playing. It was tough to watch him fight through the pain for most of the game. Washington had 129 yards of offense in the first quarter, but managed just 74 yards the rest of the game. On a low snap late in the fourth quarter, Griffin essentially blew out his knee trying to plant and recover a fumbled snap.
Should he have been out there? Did the team put Griffin at risk for selfish reasons, or did Griffin put himself at risk by trying to man up and fight through an obvious injury? Head coach Mike Shanahan has been taken to task for his decision to leave Griffin in the game. Orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews, a famed fixer of athletes, made news the day of the game for a USA Today story that reported Andrews never had a chance to properly evaluate Griffin when the quarterback originally hurt his knee on Dec. 9.
"He came off the field, walked through the sidelines, circled back through the players and took off back to the field," Andrews told USA Today. "It wasn't our opinion. We didn't even get to touch him or talk to him. Scared the hell out of me."
Griffin tore his LCL and anterior cruciate ligament in that playoff game and underwent surgery Jan. 9. His recovery is expected to be six to eight months — in time for the start of the 2013 regular season. The debate in sports circles has been whether Shanahan acted appropriately in allowing Griffin, the franchise player, to return to the field when it was easy to see it wasn't the bulky black knee brace that caused the player to limp and wince.
"I think I did put myself at more risk, but every time you get on the field, you're putting yourself on the line," Griffin said.
Players want to play and coaches are paid to win games. In 2010, I reported on my radio show, The Sports Hangover, that Saints quarterback Drew Brees suffered a medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury he dealt with for six weeks.
"Yeah, I had an MCL sprain this year and was able to rehab it and play with a brace, and it limited my mobility for a period of time," Brees told CBSSports.com in January 2011. "But I was fortunate enough to be able to get through it."
We celebrate toughness in sports, but sometimes toughness wins out over being smart about a players' physical health. Some make the argument that playing through injuries comes with the territory and that players are paid a high salary to do just that.
Football is gladiatorial whether we like it or not, and football fans enjoy watching the brutality and victory that comes from besting the opposing team. It is a game of toughness — but it's still hard to watch a young man in pain further injure himself all for the sake of a game.
— Listen to Gus Kattengell's The Sports Hangover every weekday from 3 p.m-6 p.m. on 106.1 FM "The Ticket."