Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen before.
In fact, it happens all the time.
For whatever reason, countless athletes dwindle long before they should. No. 1 draft picks flop and fade away into obscurity, high school phenoms don’t live up to their hype in college, and all-star players prove to be pedestrian.
My lifetime has been filled with such instances, and so has yours. It happens.
But this time it has literally struck close to home.
I never covered Robert Griffin III, he was already a Heisman Trophy winner before I joined the Killeen Daily Herald Staff. Despite being the Copperas Cove Herald sports editor, I’ve never met him or even talked with him on the phone.
I have no personal connection with Griffin. He is simply a sports superstar from a neighboring town, who is easily one of the most exciting athletes to watch I have ever laid eyes on.
But he is not himself, and it is a shame.
Again, I have nothing invested in Griffin. I am just a sports fan, who loves to see athletes excel. For a year, Cove’s most famous resident did so on football’s greatest stage — the NFL.
Now, he appears to be a shell of his former self, which is completely understandable. After setting the sport on fire as a rookie, he experienced a major knee injury and went through extensive rehabilitation during the offseason.
He’d been through similar circumstances before and rose to be a better version of himself, but this time feels different.
It is sad to think his best days could be behind him before he completes the second season of his professional career, but we have all seen similar things happen before.
I’ve seen it happen to one of my alma mater’s athletic pillars — a man who remains a living, breathing football god on campus.
Dual-threat quarterback Vince Young was a thrill ride waiting to happen every time he stepped on the field and roared into the NFL after guiding Texas to a national championship in 2005. Young was named rookie of the year in 2006 after being drafted third overall by Tennessee, and helped the Titans reach the playoffs the following season.
A knee injury in the season opener led to his benching in 2008, and despite making a run at Comeback Player of the Year the next year, Young was never the same. His dynamic rushing ability was gone, nagging injuries began mounting, and a locker room altercation with then-head coach Jeff Fisher virtually ended his career with the Titans.
In the years since, Young has become a journeyman, jumping from Philadelphia to Buffalo to Green Bay in an attempt to recapture the magic, and I believed or at least pretended to believe his next stop would host his resurrection.
I was constantly disappointed.
His career never experienced a resurgence, and, unfortunately, I see a similar story unfolding in Washington.
Like Young, Griffin’s numbers have dipped in his sophomore season. His touchdowns have dropped and his interceptions increased, and his ability to create confusion with his legs is lessened dramatically.
Whether his hampered production is due to injury, coaching decision, supporting cast, rushing back too soon, increased scouting or merely a case of realistically being unable to match his stellar rookie campaign, Griffin is not the player he was. Maybe, in time, he will bounce back, but Young is one example of the fact it doesn’t always happen.
Sometimes careers end prematurely. Sometimes fate has different plans. Sometimes athletes peak before anyone, themselves included, are prepared.
For football’s sake, I hope Griffin returns to form and becomes the player everyone remembers.
Hopefully, the fact RGIII’s story somewhat mirror’s VY’s is just a coincidence.
Maybe it is just an anomaly, and the comparison is truly meaningless.
I certainly hope so, and I know countless Copperas Cove residents agree.
Contact Clay Whittington at firstname.lastname@example.org