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Sweaty Palms, Armpit Stains And The 3 Stages Of RGIII's Return

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RGIII's return was both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.
RGIII's return was both exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

The night of Sept. 9, 2013 was eight disjointed months in the making. The drama along the way was thick, unavoidable and recurring. The player made this particular evening his goal from the outset. His handlers were more cautious — in words if not in action.

Eventually, “America’s Knee” had officially been rebuilt, rehabbed, braced up and (fingers and toes crossed) cleared for launch and violent contact. The player swapped his preseason bucket hat for a helmet, and his training camp “don’t hit me I’m precious” yellow jersey was traded for a regular “I’m fair game now” version. And then, on Monday Night Football, with fans, coaches and team doctors munching incessantly on antacid tablets, Robert Griffin III reclaimed the throne of the Washington Redskins.

Three days later, I’m ready to talk about it. The raw emotion has subsided and the experience can be analyzed effectively. It was, like most things RGIII, intense and complicated. The pregame anxiety reached a level I had not endured since my beloved Maryland Terrapins men’s basketball team played for the national championship in 2002. I hadn’t felt like this about a ‘Skins game since Super Bowl XXVI … in 1992!

It was thrilling to have RGIII back, but it seemed so, I don’t know … forced? Unnecessary? Crazy? It was as if last January never happened and no lessons had been learned. My body wanted to contort away from the TV screen, but I was helpless to avert my eyes. The thrill was too great to miss; the potential catastrophe was too great to ignore. It was Joe Theismann’s gory leg injury and the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan — only with an unknown outcome of tremendous variability.

In short, it was riveting, scary, exhilarating, stressful and exhausting. I couldn’t eat or drink a drop of an adult beverage. It was RGIII’s comeback after just a few series.

Then 26-7 happened. En route to the lopsided halftime score, RGIII looked terrible, the team was incompetent and everyone on the ‘Skins sideline looked shell-shocked. For the first time in his infantile NFL career, the wonder-quarterback’s rhetoric surpassed his action. All summer he had declared himself healthy and determined to start Week 1. His hard work made that scenario plausible, but his relentless manipulation of the decision makers — those he duped eight months prior — assured the final outcome satisfied his desire.

In retrospect, it was yet another mistake in judgment. Nothing about RGIII — not his body language, footwork, mobility, accuracy or ball security — indicated he was ready to play an NFL game. He was (presumably) healthy, but was woefully unprepared. There was no edge — no apparent determination to overcome and adapt. Ego — Mike Shanahan’s, Dr. James Andrews’ and certainly RGIII’s — and perhaps forces few understand, had hijacked a football team. The prodigal son’s party became a horror flick.

It was frustrating, bewildering, embarrassing, confusing and infuriating. I still couldn’t eat, but turned to whiskey to calm the rage. This was RGIII’s comeback by halftime.

As the second half kicked off, I was begging for any indication that RGIII and not some cheap imposter was running the offense. Could it be Diddy behind center? He assumed the role of “Johnson” in a commercial so “Calvin” could focus on football. Maybe he decided to be “Robert” so the real RGIII could focus on being “Griffin” and satisfying his sponsors’ needs?

I’m kidding … sort of.

Fortunately, there was enough evidence in the second half to confirm that the quarterback in burgundy and gold was, in fact, the real RGIII (not that I’m doubting Diddy’s ability). RGIII was more accurate, moved a little bit and the team actually sustained offense. While that’s nothing to celebrate, it did temper my anger and turned panic into philosophical thought. Still, a bright side proved elusive.

RGIII’s disappointing performance provided indisputable visual evidence of his physical state — and it wasn’t even close to the advertisements and grand declarations. He wasn’t just rusty; he was severely limited. There’s nothing Shanahan or Andrews can say to dispute that, and no amount of RGIII charm can cover up that inconvenient truth.

Monday night was supposed to provide answers about RGIII’s health and ability to lead the ‘Skins in 2013; instead, more questions were raised. When (if ever) will he return to form? What will the ‘Skins offense be without the threat of RGIII’s one-time enormous athletic powers? If RGIII continues to struggle, could a flaming hot quarterback controversy erupt? Might a disappointing season cost Shanahan his job and lead to Daniel Snyder and RGIII returning to the dysfunctional ‘Skins by hiring a puppet head coaching regime?

It was all terribly concerning. It invited uncertainty, worry, discomfort and apprehension. My drink had turned into a beer at some point. This was RGIII’s comeback by game’s end.

What’s next? Whatever it is, it promises to be hard to watch but impossible to ignore. On to Green Bay…