Anyone who is a football junkie like myself can quote line after line from various sports movies. Some of these quotes can be used for humor, some for motivation. But a choice few can be used as a philosophy explaining the mindset used in competition. Enter the 1993 film The Program. “Are you hurt or are you injured?” was asked by the coach after a player gets tackled hard and goes down holding his leg. When the player looks up and has no idea what the coach means he gets told “well, if you’re injured, I can’t let you go back in, but if you are hurt then you can play.” Predictably, the player hears this and says he is only hurt and then runs back limping onto the field.
Do we sometimes take this mindset too far? That’s debatable. In the case of Robert Griffin III for example, Griffin was clearly gimpy for much of the game in the Redskins playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Just a couple years ago in a similar situation, Bears QB Jay Cutler was criticized and torn apart in the media and by fellow players for sitting out the 2nd half of the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. They questioned his heart, his integrity, and his leadership. Robert Griffin III was an impressionable college sophomore at the time. Perhaps seeing the torment Cutler went through, mixed with his own mettle, helped drive Griffin to stay in the game until a 4th quarter bad snap made him twist in a way that left him writhing in pain on the grass.
There are many examples of athletes, not just football players, ponying up and playing with injury and sickness. Many of these moments are the ones that last in our memory for years and years. Who doesn’t remember a hobbled Kirk Gibson, barely able to stand, hitting the game winning homerun and limping around the bases in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series? Who could forget the 1996 Olympic games in which Kerri Strug, then just 17 years old, tore the ligaments in her ankle in a failed landing on her first vault attempt? With the Russian team closing in on a victory, Strug stepped up, ran down the mat and nailed her 2nd attempt scoring just high enough to hold off the Russian team and capturing team USA’s first ever Olympic team gold in gymnastics. Strug had to be carried of the mat by her coach afterward. Speaking of being carried I remember sitting in my living room with my father in 2002 watching Marshall play Akron. QB Byron Leftwich broke his left leg during the 1st quarter of a scoreless game. He returned from the hospital getting x-rays after halftime to find his team down 27-10. Leftwich came in and led a brief comeback in an eventual losing effort. After every big pass play, Leftwich’s offensive lineman would pick him up by the shoulders and carry him down the field. A real gutsy move in the eyes of a couple of football nuts like my dad and I. There are many other examples: Jordan’s game with the flu, Tiger Woods’ US Open on a bum knee, the Curt Schilling bloody sock, Emmit Smith’s seperated shoulder, and Donovan McNabb’s broken ankle. The list goes on and on. All memorable moments, all gutsy performances by athletes who saw the game as more than just a game, but as a family… as a way of life.
The next chapter in the story of athletes who taped it up, rubbed some dirt on it, and went out there to try and get a win was told at Fed Ex field Sunday. The heart of a champion like Robert Griffin III transcends the game of football. He might not win rookie of the year honors, he might not have won the playoff game, heck, he might not even be the best quarterback taken in this draft class. But what RGIII showed the world and importantly his teammates this past Sunday was that no matter what the case, no matter what the odds, he is going to have their back. The type of camaraderie that he created in that locker room can not be measured. Griffin, already having been voted a team captain in his rookie campaign, took the next step on the way to greatness in this league. His team has faith in him, his coach has faith him, and the Redskins fans everywhere should have faith in him. With a leader and old school player like Ray Lewis retiring this season, its nice to know that the ever-softening NFL is being left in the hands of hard, callous players like Robert Griffin III.