Washington Redskins  

 

Robert Griffin III inspired by rookies' trip to Hall of Fame

CANTON, Ohio -- In a dimly lit hallway among the many twists and turns of this hallowed building, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is trailing near the back of the pack. He's taking his time, paying close attention to each mannequin he passes.

Then he stops.

Initially, Griffin looks unfamiliar with this fully garbed, vintage-looking Redskins player to his left, leading to a closer examination, like an intrigued collector dressing down a piece of art in a museum.

"Sammy Baugh," he says below his breath.

Hello, past. Meet the present.

This was a special moment, a quiet moment, one that went largely unnoticed Wednesday -- but it might have been the very reason why a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame during this year's NFL Rookie Symposium was such a brilliant conception.

Baugh, you see, was the first player drafted by the Redskins in 1937, when the team moved from Boston to Washington. He was a quarterback from the Lone Star State nicknamed "Slingin' Sammy." And he became a member of the Hall of Fame's first class in 1963.

And now, another Texas-raised Redskins QB with a catchy nickname was face to face with a relic of his past -- two figures in a hallway at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, sandwiching between them 75 years of Redskins history.

"To know what those guys did back then and had to go through to get to where we are (standing) right now, it's extremely important for us to grasp so that we can know what our identity is," Griffin said afterward.

As the NFC's rookies slowly strolled through the building, there was nothing separating them from some members of the general public who also happened to be visiting Canton's Hall of Fame on a slow Wednesday. It only added to this surreal morning. At one point, Griffin was staring at an exhibit alongside two unknowing boys, ages 11 and 9. At the same time, their little eyes turned toward him and followed Griffin's body up to his head, forgetting to bring their jaws along for the ride.

"Hello," Griffin said, extending his hand to each. "I'm Robert Griffin."

They stared in silence.

"You know," Griffin continued. "RG3?"

Oh, they knew. But greatness in this building isn't supposed to talk.

Then again, as seemingly grasped by the NFC's rookies, much of their achieved greatness to this point pales in comparison to the football success of those before them. That seemed to be the point of this trip. This is the first time the NFL has held the rookie symposium in Ohio, giving the league an opportunity to introduce the rookies to the history of the game at the Hall of Fame, an idea conceptualized by Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin. It seemed, at least on the surface, to be a success. Will it continue?

In 2008, the league organized a similar mandatory trip to Canton for all rookies (separate from the rookie symposium), but it only lasted one year because of financial and logistical reasons. However, by coupling the trip with the rookie symposium -- which has normally rotated between California and Florida in years past -- the NFL might have found an ideal recipe.

Irvin wants this to be an annual occurrence because, he says, incoming players don't appreciate the history of the game. They don't respect the NFL shield as they should. The lessons, though, seemed to be flowing Wednesday.

As NFL.com walked with the Redskins' rookie class through the Hall of Fame, many moments stood out that weren't simply about treasuring players of past. At one point, Griffin pulled out his iPhone to take a photo of a quote from Lynn Swann that was painted onto one of the walls.

"Forget about being MVP; forget about being in the Pro Bowl," the quote reads. "Those things are nice consolation prizes if you don't get a Super Bowl ring."

As he took the photo, Griffin said, "I've got to print that one out."

Only a few minutes later, standing beside a case that showcased a Super Bowl ring from every year's winner, an employee of the Hall of Fame showed the Redskins that they were represented three times in the display.

"That's not enough rings," Griffin said. "We've got to get more."

It was an inspirational day for many, not just Griffin. As Hall of Fame vice president of communications Joe Horrigan told the group, there are more undrafted players in the Hall of Fame than No. 1 overall draft picks. Horrigan wanted all of these players -- not just the best of them -- to recognize that they, too, would have their shot.

It was a goal that crept into the minds of many Wednesday, as a few were willing to admit. Nothing wrong with that, Griffin said. This place is the greatest of motivators.

"Everybody says you've got to make sure you're not reaching too high on the success ladder, but I think everybody's goal should be to get to the Hall of Fame," Griffin said.

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And so they scanned the busts of the greats that have come and gone, pointing out players like Jim Brown and John Elway and Eric Dickerson and Deion Sanders. They scoured the building with their cameras out, each rookie enveloping himself in one exhibit after another, dreaming of a day when his legacy lives alongside such hallowed names.

Griffin spent a minute or two examining the mannequin suited up to represent Slingin' Sammy Baugh. Then he reached out his hand and patted the kneepad of Baugh's old uniform before walking toward the next room.

"Alright, Sammy," Griffin said. "I'll see you later."

Hey, you've got to start somewhere.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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