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Exclusive Interview with Redskins Star QB Robert Griffin III

10:01 PM, Oct 24, 2012   |    comments
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Robert Griffin III wearing eyeblack (Getty Images)

ASHBURN, Va. (USA TODAY)  -- Robert Griffin III isn't a big fan of superheroes who bought their way to the top.

Batman and Iron Man - products of fictional trust funds - don't do much for the Washington Redskins rookie. That's why you won't find them in the quarterback's locker, which serves as not-so-secret lair to some of the comic book world's truly gifted icons.

Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, and Spiderman are action figures that stand on a shelf above Griffin's head, surveying the locker room with messages like "Be Unstoppable" and "Amazing" taped beneath their feet.

"You want to feel like you're super out there," Griffin told USA TODAY Sports in an exclusive wide-ranging interview Tuesday. "I don't picture myself as a normal person when I play football. I like to think I can do things that normal people can't."

And if you've paid attention to the NFL season through its first seven weeks, it's hard to disagree.

With 2,069 all-purpose yards and a completion rate above 70%, the 22-year-old is changing the way the NFL thinks about mobile quarterbacks -- and quarterbacks, period.

For a kid with the world at his (fast-moving) feet, it's not difficult to get a laugh or smile out of Griffin. Making him blush, however, takes work. And it takes digging, all the way back to 2008, when a Baylor freshman showed up for a team photo having unraveled his braids and washed his hair, which looked like a lopsided bush. To start the interview, we handed Griffin a color copy of his close-up from that day.

"Oh, man," he said. "That's bad. That is a really bad picture."

What would you tell that guy?

"Don't ever take a shower and take your hair out before team photos. Good job pulling this one out of the archives."

What did that Robert have to learn, off the field?

"When you're growing up and you want to be a professional athlete, you don't realize how much of a business it is. Growing up, I was a huge Michael Jordan fan for basketball and John Elway with football. So, you think you can make it and then everything else is just easy. You just get to play the game you love and not have anything else to worry about." 

"But being a professional for a few months now, it's shown me that it is more of a business. You get to play the game you love and get paid to do it, but there are a lot more things that happen with the business aspect of it. You have to be mentally tough and realize that it's everything you dreamed of, but it's also a lot more than you dreamed of."

Is it hard to avoid becoming jaded?

"It can be tough. The first experience I had was through training camp. You've got 90 guys there with you and by the end of training camp it's cut down to 53. So that's a lot of guys without a job. You see guys' dreams get taken away. You feel that hurt, feel that pain. Talking to some of the vets, they've become immune to it. But I care about people and what's going on in their lives, so as long as I continue to care, I won't get jaded by the process." 

You've got to be the only rookie to walk into a locker room and set up his action figures. Did you worry about the reaction?

"It wasn't the first thing I did. I didn't come in, meet the guys, and then throw the action figures up. I went through OTAs and rookie minicamp, and before training camp I just felt like it was time for me to make my locker my own. I brought some of my favorite toys that I like to play with, and had a little saying under each one of them. The guys get a laugh out of it, but whenever they look at what's beneath the action figures, I feel like it has an impact on them."

All of these guys have super powers. What does that mean to you?

"People have called me 'Superman' my whole life. In various sports, that seems to be the common theme. But my favorite superhero is actually the Incredible Hulk. He's the only superhero that can't die. People might not know that. You want to feel like you're super out there. I don't picture myself as a normal person when I play football, and I don't think anyone else pictures me that way as well. ... I like to think that I am super out there and I can do things that normal people can't."

You've had a brush with football mortality -- a concussion. Any aftereffects?

"No. Fifteen minutes after, I was fine. I remembered everything. I had no concussion-like symptoms. I've moved on and I've played well in the past two games without any symptoms. I told the training staff: If anything came up, if I started having symptoms down the line, like headaches or anything like that, I would tell them because it's more about being safe and living a long time and being able to play in the future, rather than sacrificing my career and my life for two games." 

But you downplayed the concussion, saying you only had "temporary memory loss." Do you regret that?

"That's self-taught. You never want to admit you had a concussion. I know a lot of people say that there's no such thing as a mild concussion, because the brain is a very special thing. When it comes to the kids who hear those kinds of things, yeah, you don't want them to think, Hey, I only have temporary memory loss, I'm fine. But for me, to make sure that I was okay, it wasn't a concussion."

Is there a mystique around being the quarterback of the Redskins?

"I've only been the quarterback for a few games, a few months, but it's definitely something different. It's something special. We're in a huge market. Our fans are die-hard fans, so it's special to be a quarterback here, and I think I'm learning that more and more every week." 

Can you go anywhere without getting noticed?

"No, I've tried everything. Tying the hair up and wearing a hat. A hoodie. Some way, somehow they figure out it's me. And the rest is history. So I end up taking some pictures, signing some autographs and then going home." 

What do you do when you're not playing, practicing or studying?

"I love music. So I listen to a lot of music just to chill out. Watch TV. But I don't do too much outside of football during football season, because this is my job and I take it seriously. I don't do too much, don't really go out at all that much, don't eat out or anything, try to stay focused and stay to myself."

What are you driving now?

"A Nissan Armada and an Audi A8. Nothing too flashy, but good cars." 

And do you and your fiancé own a house?

"I haven't bought a house yet. I'm renting a house right now. It's in a pretty nice area. But hopefully down the road, maybe next year, I'll buy a house in this area and be able to call it my own."

We know you can throw and run, even throw left-handed. Can you kick?

"I've never tried to kick, but I can dropkick. I learned from Doug Flutie. When I was growing up, he played for the Patriots near the end of his career and he drop-kicked an extra point. I saw that and kind of gravitated towards it. So when I was in high school, during every special teams period, since they really didn't let me do anything, I just drop-kicked for 20 minutes, and I got pretty good at it."

Last week you played against New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning. This week it's Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. You watched these guys in high school. Think about that?

"I try not to, because I'm not supposed to be in shock and awe of them. They're professionals, I'm a professional. It's cool at the end of the year to look back and say, 'Man I got to play against this guy, I got to play against that guy.' But during the week and when I'm out there warming up, getting ready for the game and when they're on the field, it's not a star-struck mentality that I take to the game. They're trying to beat us."

What's been your life's greatest accomplishment?

"That's tough. I ran in the Olympic trials in '08, so to have the chance to represent your country as an Olympian would have been huge for me. Making it to the NFL is a huge accomplishment. Making it in the NFL is a huge accomplishment, but I haven't done that yet. No matter how many games we've played, it's still hard to figure out when you've made it in the NFL. So, right now it's up in the air.

"Thankfully, I don't have any kids out of wedlock. And my parents did a great job raising me and my two sisters. We all graduated from high school and we all graduated from college. So, to be a good representative of my family is probably my greatest accomplishment thus far." 

What's the toughest challenge you've faced?

"Probably tearing my ACL in 2009. I was a freshman All-American, and I tore my ACL in the third game. But God has a plan for everything. I had a chance to turn away from Him in that situation or draw closer to Him. I decided to draw closer to Him, and came back stronger from it. I'm faster than I was before I got hurt, stronger than I was before I got hurt and I'm a better player today than I was before I got hurt. So, like I say, God always has a plan, and it's definitely working out right now."

Are you the future of the quarterback position, or an anomaly?

I don't know. It's tough to say whether there will be more guys like myself or if I'm just that rare. I think that would be kind of conceited and cocky to say I'm just that rare. Defensive linemen are getting more and more athletic. Quarterbacks are getting more and more athletic. So you never know, it might end up being a lot of guys like myself that end up playing in the National Football League as quarterbacks or the trend could reset and start with the stationary quarterbacks that stick in the pocket. 

What's coach Mike Shanahan like?

"I've only been here a few months, but coach is definitely an interesting guy. He wears some interesting shorts. He has some interesting shirt selections. When he comes into meetings sometimes he doesn't wear socks. He's a funny guy, but he's not trying to be funny, so you can't laugh. It will be interesting to see over the years how many funny moments we have with each other."

Do you feel any kind of connection to black NFL quarterbacks who came before you?

I've talked to Doug Williams, I've talked to Warren Moon, I've talked to Randall Cunningham. All these guys had great NFL careers and did many things that I hope to do. But I try not to classify myself that way. I'm a quarterback, I'm not just a black quarterback. My job is to be the best quarterback, not just the best black quarterback. 

They all realize that and they all say the same thing, but it's not something that you can take on by yourself. It's not like we're fighting the fight for the black quarterback. We're just trying to go out there, be successful and help our team win.

You've been vocal about voting. Why that issue?

I'm a military kid, so I grew up with the military. Both my parents served. And our soldiers are out there fighting for our right to vote. A lot of the time they're out there fighting in other countries for that country's right to vote as well, so it means a lot to me. It's near and dear to my heart. So when I have a chance to push that envelope it makes me feel like I'm doing something good.

Democrat or Republican?

This is not about that. My focus is more just getting people out there to vote and exercise that right.

Did you watch Monday Night Football or the final debate?

I actually watched Monday Night Football, along with some other shows. I didn't watch the debate. It's football season. I've got a lot of things to focus on rather than the election.




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