Last night was one of those rare moments when someone who is a sports superstar transcends the sport and the game becomes of secondary importance to the player himself. When RGIII crumpled to the ground, I’m not sure many people outside of Seattle cared much about the score of the game as much as for the health of one of the brightest stars, most entertaining players and seemingly good guys the NFL has ever had to offer. And, when RGIII had to be helped off the field one last time, I immediately said that Redskins coach, Mike Shanahan, should be ashamed of himself for letting it get to this point.
Contrary to what some argue, my blame directed at Shanahan is not Monday Morning Quarterbacking. When RGIII ran right at 6:16 in the first quarter for a first down and got tackled awkwardly, it was clear that he was still hurt. My first reaction at that point wasn’t so much that Shanahan should pull him as much as it was that he should not be calling designed running plays that put his prized QB at unnecessary risk.
Then at 3:21 in the first quarter of the same drive, rolling right and throwing across his body, RGIII clearly had his leg buckle underneath him, got up visibly limping and ultimately left the field to get medical attention. And at that point, up 14-0, is when I did think it was time for Shanahan to be the adult in the room.
(Click here to see highlights…skip to 1 minute in for specific plays in question)
Of course, why would we expect Shanahan to do anything other than try to win the football game, his player’s health be damned? This is the same guy who told Terrell Davis to hurtle himself into a bunch of 300 LB men as a decoy on a play-action fake as he coached the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII. That’s common place except for the fine detail that Davis said that he couldn’t see due to migraine headaches at the time (See video here).
This is the same guy who didn’t immediately report RGIII’s concussion that he sustained on October 7th, who termed the concussion “mild” and led and lied about the mishandling of the situation that resulted in the Redskins being fined $20K.
“Shanahan said he didn’t know until that point [after the game] Griffin had sustained a concussion. But the league said Redskins head trainer Larry Hess said the medical staff confirmed Griffin had a concussion “within two to three minutes” after the hit by the Falcons’ Jonathan Massaquoi.
And this is the same guy who said that he only put RGIII back into the game when he initially sustained his knee injury against the Baltimore Ravens after getting clearance from medical staff, when apparently that is not the case at all.
Andrews’ comments directly contradict those made by head coach Mike Shanahan after the Redskins’ Dec. 9 game against the Baltimore. When asked by reporters the next day why he decided to let Griffin go back in the game, he said he only did so because Andrews cleared him.
“He’s the one that gives me that information,” Shanahan said on Dec. 10. “It’s way over my head.”
But Andrews said he never cleared Griffin to reenter the game. In fact, he said, Griffin “didn’t even let us look at him.”
“He came off the field, walked through the sidelines, circled back through the players and took off back to the field. It wasn’t our opinion,” Andrews said.
“We didn’t even get to touch him or talk to him. Scared the hell out of me.”
As RGIII clearly shows, players will be players. They will try to get on the field and help out their teammates no matter what. It’s what is expected from just about everyone. Fans, coaches and teammates alike. Let’s not kid ourselves. When a player asks out, especially asks out of a playoff, win or go home game, everyone looks at them with a questioning eye. I’ve done it myself. Jay Cutler comes to mind. Christian Ponder. LaDanian Tomlinson sitting on the sideline with his visor on. Scottie Pippen letting migraines get the best of him against the Pistons. Because this bravery and willingness to put it all on the line is what sets these athletes apart, gets them to the professional ranks, and creates legends amongst fans, coaches and players. While this can be disputed as being a good idea or not, there’s a reason why almost every football player, retired and playing, came to the defense of RGIII wanting to finish what he started. Because it’s what they would have done themselves. Because it’s expected.
However, it’s for this very reason – that being a gladiator is expected – that coaches and medical staff, much like a corner man in boxing does for his fighter, need to occasionally (or frequently) save players from themselves. And while it’s not done frequently enough (and hence why NFL careers are 3.2 years long on average), it is done. Especially for franchise QBs with bright futures. I guess Shanahan didn’t get that memo.
All that being said, some have said that if RGIII escapes major injury, then we should just move on. Others have commented that if he ends up being severely injured and alters the promising arc of his career, then Shanahan should be fired. I think both miss the point. It’s not the outcome that matters, it’s the decision that does.
And Shanahan’s decision was reckless. In any other industry (save for maybe finance…topic for another day), if the CEO puts his company’s most valuable asset at unnecessary risk and fails to protect it, they would be fired. Imagine if Google stored it’s search algorithm on a flash drive? If Apple failed to patent any of it’s designs or the iPad name? If Disney secretly licensed it’s characters to a porn studio? It wouldn’t really matter if someone stole the algorithm, successfully used the iPad name for their own product or if “Minnie Mouse Gangbang” was actually made, sold and distributed. It would just be a matter of time before heads rolled.
Frankly, my biggest problem with Shanahan wasn’t even that he let RGIII out on the field, it was that he was so reckless to not protect him once he was out on the field. Why run read option plays with a hobbled QB? Why call an overwhelming majority of pass plays, even after being up 14-0, and put your franchise at risk? Why not ride your workhorse RB and defense for the rest of the game and reduce the chances of something catastrophic happening?
Shanahan is lucky that his dwindling career got extended with the arrival of RGIII to Washington DC. Unfortunately, it looks like the same cannot be said in reverse.