Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was named the winner of the 2011 Heisman Trophy just a few hours before the winter issue of Baylor Magazine went on press, just barely giving us time to get the news in.
The Heisman and Baylor football's subsequent Alamo Bowl victory were followed by outstanding starts to the 2011-12 season by the Bears and Lady Bears basketball teams; at one point, those three sports were a combined 40-0 between Nov. 1 and mid-January.
Baylor President Ken Starr often says that athletics is a university's "front porch," giving the world a glimpse of what that institution is all about and inviting others in to learn even more. Baylor's recent success has certainly brought new eyes to the university this spring; here are just a few examples.
The first post-Heisman move came from the university, as Baylor's Marketing and Communications division launched a comprehensive communications plan that began with a series of advertisements and billboards intended to broaden people's understanding of Baylor and appreciation for RG3.
Minutes after the Heisman winner was announced, ads like those pictured here were activated on Yahoo! Sports' front page, ESPN.com's college football page, USAToday.com's sports page and other select websites. At the same time, the switch was flipped on digital billboards in Texas' three largest cities. All carried the same theme -- that Baylor University is a place "Building Leaders ... and Heisman Trophy winners."
In the following days, more ads congratulated Griffin and notified viewers that RG3 represented the academic and athletic excellence to which Baylor has long been committed. Two days after the announcement, a full-page ad ran in The New York Times. Later in the week, full-page ads also ran in Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine. A series of similar billboards ran for short terms on major highways in Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio, particularly along corridors to and from San Antonio during the week leading up to the 2011 Alamo Bowl. Visitors to Baylor can still see one of the billboards, on I-35 just outside Martin Hall.
Based on certified circulation numbers, the print ads alone were viewed by more than 6 million people. The billboards put the Baylor name in front of almost 11 million drivers over the course of just a few weeks, and the website ads garnered more than 13 million impressions. Even the advertising campaign itself was featured in many news stories, including one by the Associated Press that ran nationwide.
Subsequent major announcements concerning Griffin -- his decision to declare for this April's NFL draft, success at the NFL Combine in February, and his introduction as the newest member of the Adidas family -- brought further attention to the star QB, and to Baylor by connection.
As he did as a student, Griffin continued to talk up Baylor University as he was interviewed and featured on countless ESPN segments. Griffin's time in the 40-yard dash -- the fastest by any quarterback since Michael Vick -- became the subject of headlines all over the country, and every sentence that included the name "Robert Griffin III" also somewhere nearby carried the name "Baylor."
President Barack Obama invited Griffin to lead the closing prayer at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 2.
Before beginning the prayer, RG3 gave a quick "sic 'em, Bears" and challenged Obama to a game of basketball, should the President ever be so inclined. "It would be a friendly competition," Griffin said; "I wouldn't dunk on you at all."
Once again, Griffin represented Baylor well, sitting at the head table with the President, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden. "I was just honored to be that close to the President," Griffin told the Washington Post after the event. "Not every day do you get to offer a challenge of a game of basketball to the President. It's overwhelming, but you try to live in the moment and that is what I am trying to do."
The combination of Baylor's football and basketball successes brought to campus writers from multiple media outlets, including Sports Illustrated and The New York Times, each of which spent several days in Waco researching stories.
The SI article came out first -- a 10-page, 7,000-word story titled "Baylor Rising" that was even teased on the Feb. 27 issue's cover. The lengthy feature covered not only Baylor's rise in athletics, speaking to people like Griffin and Director of Athletics Ian McCaw, but also the university's academic goals, quoting President Ken Starr, Provost Dr. Elizabeth Davis, BBA '84, and chemistry professor Dr. Kevin Pinney about what the Bears' athletic success means for the university as a whole.
Just a few days later came The New York Times' feature. Titled "Baylor's Athletic Program Hits the Big Time," the story (which ran Feb. 27) took a slightly different tack on the same subject, talking to some big names from the Bears' past: legendary sportswriter Dave Campbell, BA '50, longtime head football coach Grant Teaff, Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson, BBA '90, even the chief of staff for former Texas Governor Ann Richards, BA '54.
Some 23 million people read SI each week; another million or so read the Times daily.
The same day that the NYT ran its story on the Bears, Griffin returned to the Baylor campus in order to make yet another major announcement. In a live interview on "The Dan Patrick Show," RG3 revealed that he would be featured on the cover of Electronic Arts' NCAA Football 2013 video game.
That afternoon, surrounded by Baylor students looking on, EA photographers held a lengthy photo shoot with Griffin in the middle of Fountain Mall; one of those photos will be selected for the cover of this year's game. This year marked the first time that the company had shot its college football cover subject on his home campus.
"We could have done it at the Super Bowl, but we wanted to do it here at Baylor," Griffin told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "It brings attention back to Baylor. Only one person gets [the featured cover] every year, and Baylor gets it this year. It's a great experience."
Last year, NCAA Football 2012 sold more than 700,000 copies in just its first two weeks; this year, each of the millions of homes that purchase the game will see a Baylor uniform every time they start it up.