The moment required all of Robert Griffin III’s many intangible skills — his impeccable sense of timing, his penchant for the dramatic, his preternatural confidence, his heart-melting charm. He waited patiently until everyone at the dinner table seemed absorbed in conversation, then rose silently to his feet.
It was March 20 in Waco, Tex., in a private back room at the 135 Prime steakhouse, and Griffin and his family were having dinner with the top brass of the Washington Redskins: owner Daniel Snyder, Coach Mike Shanahan, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen.
The next day, at Baylor’s pro day, would be the first time Griffin, the Baylor quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, would throw passes in front of NFL personnel before the April 25 draft, for which the Redskins held the No. 2 overall pick.
At first, no one at the table seemed to notice as Griffin — trying to be casual, as if he was merely too warm — stood and began to remove his green Adidas hoodie. But then the others caught a glimpse of what he was wearing underneath: a burgundy, official NFL-issue T-shirt, with a large Redskins logo on the front.
The bold statement, which Griffin later acknowledged was “premeditated,” sent the room into spasms of laughter and applause. The Redskins’ brass seemed shocked, considering the draft was still five weeks away, the 22-year-old Griffin had yet to throw for them and there was still some uncertainty over what the Indianapolis Colts would do with the No. 1 overall pick. But they seemed blown away by the gesture. His mission accomplished, Griffin flashed his now-famous, toothy smile and sat back down.
“What if you had gotten the days mixed up,” Snyder, with a smile, leaned over and asked Griffin, “and worn a Colts shirt by mistake?”
Griffin laughed, he later recalled, but he was dead serious about his message: I want to be a Redskin.
“I wanted to show them where my mind was, where my heart was,” he said later. “I knew my pro day was going to go extremely well, [but] I didn’t want to make [the Colts] want me. I wasn’t going to play that game.”
The process of making Griffin a Redskin began on March 10, when the team traded four high-round draft picks to the St. Louis Rams to move up to the No. 2 spot in the draft, and became official Wednesday morning, when he signed his name to a four-year, $21.1 million contract in an office at Redskins Park in Ashburn, a week before the opening of training camp.
But that night in Waco, some four months ago, was when Griffin became a Redskin at heart. What followed — a dazzling performance at Baylor’s pro day, the draft itself and the signing of his contract — seemed like mere formalities.
In the weeks since, Griffin has lived through a head-spinning, life-altering transition — from Texas to Washington, from amateur to pro, from Baylor’s spread offense to the Redskins’ more complex West Coast system, from regional hero to national pitchman, from college student to multimillionaire, from the face of a small private university to that of the third-most valuable franchise in U.S. professional sports.
But through it all, the son of two retired Army sergeants has pursued one mission above all others: Becoming a Redskin. And not just a Redskin, but someone who can lead grown men to greatness, reward the faith the organization has shown in him and live up to the expectations of a fan base that has come to see him as nothing less than the franchise’s savior.
“He clearly knows,” said his father, Robert Griffin, “he has to deliver.”
The first thing Griffin noticed about the playbook was how huge it was — a three-ring binder, five inches thick, stuffed nearly full with pages. White with a Redskins logo on the front, its contents were tabbed for easy flipping and divided into chapters — cadences, snap counts, protections, plays, red zone offense, two-minute offense and more.
“They wanted to throw the whole offense at me, just so I could see — these are the possibilities,” Griffin said. “They wanted to confuse me. They wanted to make things hard, to see what I could handle.”
The Redskins had drafted another quarterback, Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins, in April, a decision widely criticized by analysts on ESPN and the NFL Network, but it gave Griffin a natural study partner.
During much of May, the rookies roomed together at a suites hotel a mile and a half from Redskins Park, where they spent most of their evenings in their living room, on opposite sides of a coffee table, poring over their playbooks and taking nightly quizzes.
The quizzes, devised by Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, were designed to reinforce material in the playbook, not unlike the tests conceived by high school math teachers.