On March 24th, 2016, the Cleveland Browns signed Robert Griffin III to a two-year contract.
On April 3rd, 2016, I am on a plane headed home from Houston. It's a long flight, one of those rides through the clouds that's only supposed to last a few hours but feels like you've been gone for a half a day. The plane lands at Cleveland Hopkins Airport and we, the passengers, sit awkwardly as we to be released into the airport. As I slide out of my window seat toward the aisle to pull down my carry-on from the overhead bin, a careful maneuver after being told 1,000 times that our bags may have shifted in flight, a man on the other side of the aisle and a few rows ahead of me does the same.
He's wearing a bright green zip-up with the hood pulled snugly over his head and baseball cap. He has sunglasses on in a place where there is no sun. He is big, not in the way a 6-foot-7, 250 pro athlete might be big, but there's something about him that separates him from me, or the guy with his phone clip behind me or even the pilot thanking us from the cockpit as we file out of the plane. When the man reaches for his luggage, a green athletic bag with the word "Baylor" scrawled across it in yellow, I'm finally enlightened. That's RG3.
"Welcome to Cleveland, Robert," I blurt out like a total fanboy.
"I appreciate you, man," Griffin responds as he leads his wife and infant off the plane, flashing that same smile that took him from Walter White to Heisenberg in Washington, D.C., a smile so perfect it should be trademarked.
At first, I thought Griffin was trying to be incognito. New city, new team, preconceived notions about who you are. You just want to put your head down and be on your way. But the more I thought about it, the more I think he wanted to be seen. Wearing sunglasses and a zip-up the color of Yoshi is more a device to get noticed than not, like putting tinted windows on your Lamborghini. The way he lit up when he realized someone recognized him. And that damn smile.
RG3 is weird. I think that's the agreed on adjective used to describe a guy who had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time, then dissolved into the person that let Kirk Cousins become a meme. He did weird things during his time in D.C., like throwing his offensive line under the bus, instructing his coaches on how to be better at their jobs, complaining about the way his pleats looked on the statue that Baylor built of him and leaving preachy notes in his locker to be found later like some sort of lost sea scroll. By the time his four-year tenure in the capital was done, RG3's approval rating was lower than George W. Bush's.
The Browns signed up for the RG3 Redemption Tour on the cheap, and on Friday night, the quarterback they almost paid a fortune to draft in 2012 will be their starting quarterback, claimed for almost nothing at all. The narratives surrounding Griffin throughout his first training camp with the Browns have been predictably positive. He's leading better. He's humbled himself. He's throwing better from the pocket. He's developed legitimate chemistry with first round pick Corey Coleman. He's under the wing of Hue Jackson, quarterback whisperer. Everything will be great.
And yet, in the few short months that Griffin has been a Brown, he's done countless things that, quite honestly, make you want to curl up in the fetal position due to their cringeworthiness.
In his introductory press conference, he dropped an old catch phrase, literally responding to a question about pressure with "No pressure, no diamonds," which he then instantly turned into a hashtag like he was some sort of marketing robot.
In practice, he's taken a liking to launching the football over the fences in Berea into people's backyards when no one is open, then turning it into a story about how "coachable" he is.
“I’m just being coachable,” Griffin told cleveland.com. “You have to practice the way you play — sliding, throwing the ball away, all those things, keeping positive downs and distances. Those are important. It seems funny throwing the ball over the fence, but it’s just part of the process. You have to take everything into account.”
He has, in the midst of a compliment for his fellow QBs, pointed out how much faster he is than them, just to make sure you know that the pedestal he stands on didn't get totally demolished after what happened in D.C.
He took a picture of himself standing by an old, black Passat, then posted it to Twitter so everyone could understand that he's just like us. A simple man driving a simple car, that's all RG3 is, reminding us one soundbite and tweet at a time.
In one sense, everything has changed for Griffin. The city he resides in, the team he plays for, even the way he plays the position he occupies. In another, he's just as complex and polarizing as he's always been. To some, he is genuine, kind and team-oriented. To others, he is fake, self-absorbed and too media savvy for his own good.
In reality, Griffin is probably all of these things mushed in to one, a man who can be both hailed as a deity for what he did in Washington as a rookie and be cast as the devil himself for how it all ended.
So is true redemption possible in Cleveland? Will the whiff of his old self, if it does indeed reappear on the field, seduce us back to a singular view of the former Baylor Bear? Or will these occasional moments of oddity, always with the potential to spread like wildfire, preclude Griffin from ever becoming the quarterback and person we think he ought to be? Or is this all simply a commentary on how, in 2016, we still think QBs should tread as lightly as Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning, the men we've, for reasons that involve race and demeanor, chosen to be the template for the perfect signal caller?
The 2016 version of Robert Griffin III will be a fascinating one, indeed.