Washington, D.C. may be the nation’s capital, but it’s also a city that has come to define failure and disappointment in the public consciousness. Even Barack Obama, the idol of those who with a misplaced faith in government, has conceded as much.
“You can’t change Washington from the inside,” Obama said. “You can only change it from the outside.” If he really meant that, he would heed Samuel Johnson: "How small, of all that human hearts endure,/ That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!"
Instead Obama asked for four more years of vast political power, claiming to be able to cure much of what human hearts endure.
That’s part of what makes Robert Griffin III’s success with the Washington Redskins so refreshing. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael asked Philip. If he had asked about the Beltway, even Philip would have had to say no.
Griffin has been good, despite coming from a Washington sports team that has often seemed doomed to perpetual mediocrity due to its owner’s micromanagement, poor player recruitment, and just bad luck. The Senate has passed a budget more recently than the Redskins have appeared in a playoff game.
That drought will soon be over. Griffin has thrown for 3,200 yards in his rookie season, tossing 20 touchdown passes to just five interceptions. He has run for 815 yards and seven more touchdowns.
Griffin wasn’t quite as hot in the game that clinched the NFC East title for the Redskins. Playing with a knee that obviously wasn’t 100 percent, he attempted just 18 passes and completely only half of them. He didn’t throw a touchdown, although he did run six times for 63 yards and a score. That averages out to 10.5 yards per carry.
Instead Griffin fed the ball to a fellow rookie, running back Alfred Morris. Morris ran for 200 yards on 33 attempts and three touchdowns, a 6.1 yard per carry rushing attack. This helped the quarterback do some masterful ball-handling with play-action fakes and other trickery that repeatedly fooled the Dallas Cowboys’ best defensive players.
In addition to proving a skillful signal-caller and nimble runner, Griffin has been a classy leader for the beleaguered Redskins franchise. He has put the team on his back coming out of Baylor. Even his personal critics are left making dumb racially charged jokes that end up paying inadvertent tribute to his decency.
Like everything else in Washington, there is a little bit of gimmickry in Griffin’s game. He runs too much, which has already gotten him hurt. How far can the option offense take you in the pros? Surely, the Redskins must pass more to keep up with the very best in the league. There won’t always be Tony Romo to cough up three ill-timed interceptions.
But unlike most other things that happen in Washington, there’s always a possibility that an investment in the future will pay off. The team could be rebuilt around RG III, with better wide receivers and (at long last) a bolstered offensive line. Griffin could continue to grow in the game.
All that remains to be seen. For now, there is joy in Mudville, or at least the Swamp City. Veterans like London Fletcher and Chris Cooley will get to taste the postseason. A team that been denied for five years will get a chance.
Even Griffin’s rookie backup quarterback, Kirk Cousins, has had an opportunity to shine this season. Don’t be surprised if he is courted by other teams this summer, perhaps even given an opportunity to start somewhere. The Redskins could use the draft picks.
Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s name will be mentioned frequently during the offseason as well, as disappointed teams start to rebuild. A lot of coaches will be fired in the coming days.
Some will ask what difference it all makes, with the country’s finances in increasingly dire shape and a political class that doesn’t seem up to the challenge. The voters are always looking for an RG III, but instead winding up with Romo.
It’s a good question, given all the important things going wrong. Chuck Pagano, a cancer survivor who coaches the Indianapolis Colts, another playoff-bound team led by an impressive rookie quarterback, Andrew Luck, gave a good answer.
People derive joy from sports, Pagano reminded his team. “There’s people out there that are fighting right now and they’re struggling and they’ve got circumstances,” he said. “Right now, they’re sitting there with a big smile on their face.”
There’s hope in the nation’s capital. And maybe, with a little luck, some change.