The Nats open their home season today. The Wizards are headed to the playoffs for the first time since before he played a game in college. And Robert Griffin III is looking forward to his own fresh start that begins on Monday when NFL rule will allow him to begin working for the first time with new Redskins coach Jay Gruden.
Griffin III, who was held out of last year’s offseason workouts as he recovered from knee surgery, apparently believes that his fall from rookie superstar in 2012 to just another quarterback in 2013 had as much to do with the brace he wore on his surgically repaired right knee as it did with the well-documented tension between him and Mike and Kyle Shanahan, his now former coach and offensive coordinator.
The Shanahans and Washington’s medical staff wanted to protect the Redskins’ investment in their franchise quarterback for whom they had relinquished three No. 1 draft picks and a second-rounder in order to acquire the No. 2 overall selection from St. Louis.
Griffin, who set NFL rookie records for passer rating and quarterback rushing yards before tearing his right ACL and MCL in the wild card playoff loss to Seattle in January 2013, wanted to play with his usual abandon.
Hence the conflict during Washington’s franchise-worst collapse from surprise NFC East champions to the bottom of the division in 2013, a season that ended with the oft-sacked Griffin a spectator for the final three games even though he was healthy.
Griffin had worn a brace on the same knee when he returned in 2010 after tearing his ACL as a Baylor sophomore the previous fall. But now he was an adult with a four-year, $21.1 million contract. Griffin said all the right things last season about wearing the brace, but it seemed that his heart wasn’t in it. The 23-year-old wanted to be the same old improvisational RGIII, not a quarterback constrained by a brace.
So now, with the Shanahans gone and his surgery more than 14 months in the past, Griffin went public recently with his plans to ditch the brace.
“I took it off the year after [I had my first ACL surgery],” Griffin explained. “Me, [trainer] Larry [Hess], Dr. [James] Andrews, Dr. [Anthony] Casolaro, Dr. [Chris] Annunziata, we’ll all sit down and figure it out. But I think it’s safe to say I won’t be wearing the brace.”
More than a few Redskins observers shook their heads and saw Griffin’s comment as yet the latest example that the quarterback – with the apparent blessing of superstar-loving owner Dan Snyder – is running the show at Redskins Park even though he’s supposed to be working for Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen.
Snyder and Allen haven’t weighed in publicly on Griffin’s plan, but Gruden said that this quarterback’s “knee is strong” and would be fine without a brace.
Like Gruden, I don’t see Griffin’s latest pronouncement as a shot at authority. Not only does Griffin know his body better than anyone and know how well he played in 2010 after shedding the brace at Baylor – 22 touchdown passes, 3,501 passing yards, 635 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns — but he watched Adrian Peterson run wild without a brace in 2012 less than a year after his fellow Texan’s own torn ACL and MCL.
Peterson was injured on Christmas Eve 2011 in Washington. I interviewed the All-Pro running back in the visitors’ locker room afterwards and didn’t expect him to play in 2012. Instead, Peterson famously was back for Minnesota’s opener less than nine months after surgery and was voted the NFL’s MVP after coming within nine yards of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record while leading the Vikings to an unexpected wild card berth. Peterson did all of this with an unprotected knee.
While it seemed crazy, Peterson’s decision to shun the brace wasn’t so weird. As Dr. Jonathan Cluett, an orthopedic surgeon with expertise in sports medicine, has written, “No scientific data has shown that using a knee brace will prevent re-injury to the ACL. The problem with knee braces? While they may help support the knee when low forces are applied, these forces would not be expected to cause injury to the reconstructed ACL. However, a force that is high enough to disrupt the reconstructed ACL would not be effectively stabilized by the knee brace.”
According to a University of Wisconsin study, the chances of re-tearing the same ACL (for all people, not just high-level athletes) are just five to 15 percent. In fact, you’re more likely to tear your other ACL (10-22 percent likelihood).
Of course, Griffin has already torn his right ACL twice, but the basketball fan also is well aware of Derrick Rose’s recent injury history. The Chicago Bulls’ guard, the only player to break LeBron James’ stranglehold on the MVP award since 2008, missed all of 2012-13 after tearing his left ACL in April 2012 only to tear the meniscus in his right knee 10 games into this season, an injury which has sidelined him since. Rose had long worn plenty of padding on both of his knees.
So MVP Peterson prospered with a virtually naked knee while MVP Rose has seriously injured both knees despite taking precautions to protect them. For all of our 21st century technology, we can’t really predict how a knee will react to the stress of moves that only rare athletes can make. Griffin is one of those. And if he believes that he’ll be his old pre-second ACL surgery self this season without the brace, then the Redskins should allow him to doff it.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.