June 16, 2010
When quarterback Robert Griffin III tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee, he suffered more than just physical pain. Adding a somewhat paradoxical insult to his injury, he also lost both the joys of being part of a team and the satisfaction that comes with independence and doing things for one's self.
"I realized I took a lot of things for granted: being able to walk, to run, to drive, to go to the bathroom by yourself. I was on crutches for a month. That was a long time, a long month," he says.
"And not being able to go to practice and watch those guys or travel with them for a lot of games, that hurt me. It makes you feel like you're not a part of the team. The coaches did the best they could to make me feel involved, but sometimes you just want to be around the guys, and I wasn't. When something's taken away from you that you love, it can hurt you deep, and it made me realize what I needed to do.
"I realized you've got to cherish every practice, every game, every opportunity you have to be with your teammates, because it can all be taken away from you in a split second."
After nine long months of rehabilitation, Griffin is self-sufficient once again and has regained his place among teammates. He participated in all non-tackling drills this spring, and with fall camp just around the corner, the redshirt sophomore (granted a hardship waiver by the Big 12 Conference) anxiously awaits the start of the season.
"I feel like I could go out there right now and play a football game if I had to," he says. "I'm lifting, gaining weight and getting my speed back, and that feels great. Once you make it over the hurdle of being able to run again, everything else is just the promised land. You're just so excited to get back out there and do what you used to do."
The 2009 season began with high hopes for the Bears, based in large part on Griffin's spectacular debut as a true freshman the year before in which he compiled perhaps the best dual-threat (running and passing) season of any player in Baylor history. Instead, Griffin's season -- and many fans' hopes -- were dashed when the quarterback went down for the year during the third game of the season.
"A lot of people had put me up on a pedestal, made me the messiah of football at Baylor," Griffin says. "That's all fine and dandy, and good for the press clippings, but in the end, no one man can do it by himself. Maybe God did this to me to show everybody else that he still is God, and I'm not the messiah."
In mid-October, Griffin opted for surgery. Dr. Mark Adickes, a 1984 Baylor graduate and former all-America tackle for the Bears who is now co-medical director of the Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine Institute in Houston, performed the surgery.
"Having a Baylor guy take care of you, staying in the family, was good," Griffin says. "He's had a bunch of knee surgeries, too, so he knows the feeling. To have someone like that to connect with is a good thing."
Since then, it's been all about rehabilitation for Griffin, starting the very next day after the surgery.
"The first two or three months is nonstop stretching, a lot of quad sets, a lot of stuff standing on your other leg, not really putting a lot of weight on the injured leg. You don't start running until about 12 weeks. After that, it's just based on how your body adapts to the training."
In some ways, Griffin says, the mental aspects of dealing with the injury were even tougher than the physical pain and rehab work.
"The first couple of weeks, the pain was really bad. Then after that, it's not the worst pain you've ever felt, but it never goes away and it can break you down easily. It's always there; there's no break, no 'OK, it's not hurting today.'
"But I think the mental side was worse, because you can't do anything," he continues. "When they told me that I had torn my ACL, the first thing that went through my mind was how many people I had let down -- not only my teammates, but the fans and the community. You just have to come back and get ready for the next year. You can't sit and sulk and worry about what would've happened if I hadn't gotten hurt. You have to come back the next year and do everything you can to make those dreams come true, to reward this year's seniors and the community, because they really deserve it."
Relegated to the sidelines, Griffin did what he could to benefit from the situation.
"Learning on the sidelines, you just see things differently. You see things you wouldn't see on the field, and that's helped me a lot with reading coverages and breaking the game down.
"I think it made the team stronger, too, because they had to fight every game. I hope it helped some of the guys find themselves and believe in themselves a lot more."
Griffin says changes to the offensive line since last fall won't be a problem, even with 60 percent of the line in new roles this year, beginning with new center Philip Blake. A 12-game starter last year at right tackle, Blake shifts to center to replace departed all-American J.D. Walton, BA '09, a third-round draft choice of the Denver Broncos in April (see below).
"I feel comfortable with these guys. I took snaps with Philip Blake every day this spring. He's a good center, a really athletic guy. I feel comfortable with him already, and the rest of the line is definitely a lot bigger than what we've had in the past, and they actually played a lot better than everybody expected this spring. That's a huge upside for us, if our offensive line can come ready to play every game and just bulldoze some people," Griffin says.
Asked about his hopes for the fall, Griffin skips right past the idea of winning six games to become bowl eligible.
"People say I might be crazy, but we could win the national championship this year. The conference that we're in, if we make it to the conference championship, we're almost guaranteed to be in that game. This year, it's big for us to get those six wins and get to that bowl game, but I don't limit it to six games; I always look beyond that."