WACO - Entering the season, Baylor's hopes of ending its 15-year postseason absence rested squarely on the shoulders of dynamic sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin III.
But after an MRI on Sunday revealed the former Copperas Cove standout suffered an "isolated tear" to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee during Saturday's 68-13 victory over Northwestern State, those high hopes are in jeopardy.
"It was like the whole season is gone, and I let so many people down from my teammates to people around the community, anybody backing the Bears," Griffin said Tuesday in his first interview since the injury. "But I talked to (Baylor) coach (Art Briles) about that and he told me that's not on my shoulders and I just have to realize that and let it go."
Griffin took the news particularly hard.
"I broke down and cried a little bit. It's tough to realize that especially when you didn't think it was that bad. But now I'm still dealing with that and I've just have to get over that and get my knee back."
Nicknamed "Superman" by his teammates and "the Franchise" by the Bear faithful, the seemingly invincible dual-threat quarterback is now facing his toughest test ever - sitting and rehabilitation.
"He's 19 years old - he wasn't happy (with the news). He was really disappointed he couldn't be there for the senior guys. ... He really wanted them to get to a bowl before they got out of here," said his father, Robert Griffin Jr., by phone Monday. "... That kind of took a lot of pressure off him because he had a lot on his shoulders, self-inflicted mostly, because he wants to be there for them."
It is the first time in Griffin's short but illustrious career as both a Bulldawg and a Bear that he's been forced to the sidelines because of injury.
"His MCL is in great shape, there's no cartilage or (other) ligament damage, the doctor said his knee is in really good shape," his father said. "The doctor said that because he has everything in tact except for (the ACL), his rehabilitation should be successful and he's going to pretty happy about the whole procedure once it's done."
Given his great track record of health, doctors expect the knee to come back just as strong as before.
"They said it was the best tear I could have, just an isolated ACL," Griffin said. "They're high on me getting the surgery and being back next year ready to go even better than I was before."
Griffin suffered the injury on the opening drive of the game when his leg bent awkwardly on a fourth-down stop for no-gain. Despite being forced to the ground for several minutes following the hit, Griffin returned to the game on the next drive with his knee heavily wrapped.
Griffin finished the first half with 226 yards on 13-of-19 passing and three touchdowns as Baylor mounted a 41-10 lead, which allowed the young quarterback to rest the entire second half on the sidelines.
"It was fourth-and-two and I was trying to get the two yards and (the Northwestern defender) was trying to play the pitch, so I tried to cut back inside but as soon as I planted my right foot, it turned out and my knee buckled inside and I heard the pop," Griffin recalled. "So I'm just laying there. It looked like a bad tackle but the only reason he tackled me was because I couldn't move. I just kind of dropped as soon as I heard the pop."
There is still hope, mostly coming from Griffin himself, that the knee will respond to physical therapy and it might have the stability to take the punishment of a game.
"I just look at it like I played on it for two quarters and it was pretty effective, so I can do that again if I can get my knee back somewhat stable - because it'll never go totally stable without an ACL," Griffin said. "It just depends on what the team wants and if I can come back and I feel good, I'll address the team before I make a decision."
Expected to go back for a second evaluation in two weeks, Griffin will weigh his options. If he chooses to postpone the surgery until the offseason, it'll be at least four weeks before he can get back out onto the field. But if he opts for surgery in two to three weeks, the rehabilitation time will be at least six months.
"It's an opportunity for him to look at the game from a different venue because he's always been in the action, never been a guy that's had to stand and watch," Briles said in Monday's weekly Big 12 teleconference. "... I think that will definitely help him become what he can become a little later down the line."
Without Griffin, the Bears will turn to backup senior Blake Szymanski, who is recovering from an injury to his throwing shoulder suffered late in Saturday's game.
"What he brings is a weathered veteran mentality," Briles said. "Blake's a guy that's been through some storms and he's survived. He brings a workman-like and tough approach to the game that has a chance to prove himself."
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566.
Contact Alex Byington at email@example.com or (254) 501-7566