The “observation room” behind the Washington Redskins’ bench at FedEx Field is little more than a small shed, painted burgundy, with a sloping roof. As Robert Griffin III entered it late in the first quarter of the Redskins’ 24-14 loss to Seattleon Jan. 6, he had to duck to get through the doorway. As he did so, he reached up and high-fived a fan who had leaned over the railing above to offer Griffin his hand in encouragement.
Griffin’s visit to the room was the result of a play moments before when, on a rollout to his right from the Seahawks’ 4-yard line, he planted on his right leg as he threw what turned out to be an incomplete pass, then crumpled to the ground, removed his helmet and grimaced in obvious pain.
And when Griffin exited the examination room a few moments later, what might have been the last, best chance to prevent further injury to his problematic knee had passed the Redskins by.
Griffin, with the blessing of Coach Mike Shanahan and the team’s medical staff, continued to play — mostly ineffectively — and by late in the fourth quarter of the first-round playoff game, when he could no longer go on, he had suffered what would later be diagnosed as a torn lateral collateral ligament in his right knee.
He underwent surgery on Jan. 9 to repair that tear, as well as revise the reconstruction of his anterior cruciate ligament, which he originally tore in 2009 as a sophomore at Baylor. The injury will require months of rehabilitation, calling into question Griffin’s availability for the start, if not all, of the 2013 season.
In the aftermath of the Seattle loss, an avalanche of criticism from fans and media was directed at Shanahan, the team’s medical staff and, to some degree, Griffin himself for ignoring the obvious visual clues that the quarterback’s knee was compromised. Although little has been made public about the deliberations behind the decision to keep Griffin in the game, or the medical measures taken that allowed him to play in the first place, a closer examination of the day’s events paints a fuller picture of the process.
According to a person with knowledge of the behind-the-scenes deliberations regarding Griffin’s knee behind the Redskins bench two weeks ago, the rookie quarterback, seated on an examination table in the small room while his knee was retaped, suddenly popped up and told the medical personnel: “I’m fine. I’m ready to go.”
While Griffin’s visit to the room in the first quarter was a pivotal moment in the timeline of that fateful game, it was hardly the only one. Griffin played six more offensive series, for a total of 24 more plays, before his knee gave out. He conferred with Shanahan on the sideline between at least some of those series, each time insisting he wanted to continue.
“You respect authority, and I respect Coach Shanahan,” Griffin said after the game, in what remains his last public comment since the injury. “But at the same time you have to step up and be a man sometimes, and there was no way I was coming out of that game.”
‘Get back on the field’
The last player announced to the crowd during pregame introductions, Griffin, in full uniform and with a brace over his right knee, strutted out of the giant inflatable helmet in the corner of the end zone, crossed himself, pointed to the sky and — with a sellout crowd roaring — took off with a hop-skip-and-jump that morphed into a full-blown sprint to the opposite end zone.
When Griffin came to the sideline prior to the game for his traditional greeting with his parents, his father, Robert Griffin Jr., told him: “You’ve worked hard. Now have some fun.” To his mother, Jacqueline, Griffin said, “I love you, mom,” and kissed her.
Griffin, who had suffered what was described as a grade one sprain of his LCL on Dec. 9 against Baltimore — causing him to miss the game the following week at Cleveland, against his wishes — had been telling family members all week that his knee was feeling good.
On the Wednesday before the Seattle game, during his usual midweek news conference, he had lobbied publicly to be allowed to play without the knee brace he had been wearing since the original injury.
“My leg, I can feel it healing,” Griffin had said, “so I might not wear the brace this week. . . . I try to do as much as I can without the brace, and whenever [the team’s medical personnel] find out I don’t have it on, I have to throw it on.”
Indeed, the person familiar with the situation said Griffin was constantly pushing the team’s medical staff to allow him to wear a brace with more flexibility than the doctors wanted. It was not clear whether he ever switched.