“Sometimes people think it’s what you say when you’re in a huge group that makes you a leader,” Griffin said. “But sometimes it’s the one-on-one conversations you have with guys individually, just getting to know them. I think I’ve done that a lot. Not intentionally — it just happens.”
An early lesson
Griffin was born with the leadership gene, inherited more than likely from his father. Robert Griffin Jr. enlisted in the Army when he was 18, and rose from private to staff sergeant, a promotion of five ranks, in his first year as an artillery man.
Many years later, when the elder Griffin — with his retirement papers already in hand — was suddenly stop-lossed and asked to return to Iraq to lead a dangerous transport mission, young Robert, then 13 years old, received one of the most important lessons of his life in the art of leadership.
“It was a pivotal moment for Robert,” Jacqueline Griffin, said. “Not only did he assume a leadership role with the family, as the man of the house, but he also got a glimpse of how much leadership matters, and that sometimes you have to make sacrifices to be a good leader. Sometimes you have to take a hit for the team.”
At Copperas Cove (Tex.) High, Griffin became the starting quarterback his sophomore year and led the Bulldawgs to back-to-back appearances in the Texas state final his junior and senior years. Along the way, his will to win, not to mention his breathtaking ability, became the stuff of local legend.
Troy Vital, Griffin’s best friend from high school and his running back on those Cove teams, recalled a playoff game their senior year in which the Bulldawgs trailed by two touchdowns with five minutes left in the game. As they sat on the bench together, with the opposing team holding the ball, Vital figured they were about to lose and began rhapsodizing out loud about the approaching Signing Day, when Vital and Griffin would sign their college scholarship papers.
“He goes, ‘Don’t even start talking about that. We’re about to get back in this game. This is what we live for. This is our moment,’ ” Vital recalled. “We scored 24 points in five minutes and won the game. It’s just moments like that that blow you away. That’s how he is.”
When Griffin arrived at Baylor, the football team hadn’t had a winning season in 13 years, hadn’t been to a bowl game in 14 years and hadn’t finished a season ranked in the top 25 in 22 years. But by the time he left, the Bears had accomplished all three, and Griffin had become the first Heisman Trophy winner in school history.
In the beginning, Griffin was stunned by the complacency around the football program, bristling at all the empty seats in the stadium, and seething at the way players laughed on the team bus after losses.
“People were just used to losing,” said Lanear Sampson, a wide receiver who came to Baylor in the same recruiting class as Griffin and is now a senior. “It irritated him. He’s a winner. He wants to win. . . . He just believed in himself and his teammates and coaches, and believed we could turn the program around.”
It may be difficult to comprehend now, but as recently as November 2011, the knock against Griffin was that he didn’t have a signature victory — that he couldn’t win the big game. Then, on Nov. 19, Baylor beat fifth-ranked Oklahoma in a nationally televised contest, and followed that with wins over top-25 teams Texas Tech, Texas and Washington (in the Alamo Bowl), and no one ever again said Robert Griffin III couldn’t win the big game.
“He just has that mojo about him,” said Ahmad Dixon, a junior defensive back at Baylor.
With the Redskins, Griffin has already revealed a knack for seizing the largest moments. He won in his NFL debut (at New Orleans in Week 1), in his national television debut (at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day) and in his Monday Night Football debut (vs. the Giants in Week 13). And of course, he has led the Redskins on the six-game winning streak they bring into Sunday night’s game against Dallas.
Where he once wore the tag of being unable to win on the big stage, now he has a reputation for thriving on it — something that might bring the Redskins some comfort as Sunday’s kickoff approaches.
“I’ve shown them through the games [that] no matter what the score is, we always have a chance,” Griffin said. “Not just because I’m their quarterback, but because of the attitude we bring to the table.”
A turning point
The captain’s patch is about four inches tall, a white “C” above four stars. One of the stars on Griffin’s No. 10 jersey is gold — indicating his first year as a captain — and the other three are white. In subsequent years, more stars will turn to gold, and eventually in year four, the “C” itself will be gold, as it is on the No. 59 uniform of Fletcher, the Redskins’ longest-serving captain.