A man best known for his athletic accomplishments does his best work off the field.
My first encounter with Robert Griffin III came in the summer of 2011. It was a sunny, 110-degree, run-of-the-mill summer day in Waco, Texas and I was interviewing for a position in the Baylor athletic department.
As my interviewer and I toured the school's athletic facilities, there was seldom another person to be seen. In the world of college athletics, July represents the precious few weeks of calm — for players and staff — before the storm that is the athletic year. These were truly the dog days of summer.
Toward the end of the tour, as we approached the study center in Baylor's sparkling Simpson Athletics and Academic Center, there sat the kid locals were calling "RG3."
I had heard of RG3 and I knew he had a chance for a big season in 2011. But I certainly did not anticipate this was a future Heisman Trophy winner I was about to meet.
In a room with about 20 flat-screen computers, Griffin sat alone. His unmistakable braids were held back with a white headband and his bright pink polka-dotted socks stretched to mid-calf as he sat slouched, expressionless in front of a computer screen.
My tour guide, Heath Nielsen, Baylor's head of athletic communications, disturbed Griffin's moment of solitude — or boredom — and introduced me. "Meet the big man on campus," he said.
Griffin was polite. He shook my hand, cracked a few jokes and flashed that smile that you now see on commercials for Adidas, Gatorade and others. It didn't take long to realize Griffin wasn't your standard student-athlete. Pink socks aside, he had a genuineness about him that not found in many of the student-athletes with whom I've worked. I walked away from that encounter taking consolation in the fact that even if I didn't land the job, I could at least say I had met Robert Griffin.
It turns out, despite suffering a panic attack on the flight to Waco (great way to start a job interview) I did get the job. I spent the next year following around Griffin and the rest of the Baylor student-athletes with a video camera, producing feature stories and highlight packages for the athletic department's website and a local TV show.
The job had its perks. Chartered flights to games, all-access passes to every sporting event, and in the case of RG3, traveling alongside him as he made the rounds to the ESPN College Football Awards and other events. But my most lasting memory of that year at Baylor is the way Robert Griffin III carried himself and treated those around him. He was truly the greatest representative Baylor University could have asked for.
In my interview with Nielsen for my December feature story on marketing Heisman Trophy candidates, Nielsen told me, "There's a difference between putting a kid who is really well-spoken, clean cut and a great representative of your university out there, versus an athlete who may not have some of those qualities."
Griffin realized that he had the ability to bring unprecedented exposure to a university that was historically overlooked in the athletic realm. (Prior to 2010, Baylor hadn't won a bowl game since 1992.) With this understanding, and his attitude of treating others with respect, Griffin always put on a smile and for fans, media members and teammates. Between football, school (Griffin earned his master's degree at Baylor) and media appearances, his schedule was grueling. But he never complained.
He understood what he meant to the university. The better he played and the more games the team won, the higher the demands were to talk to RG3. Media from every outlet wanted a piece of him. Reporters flew into town to follow him around campus, every radio show in the country wanted him on the phone, fans of all ages were merciless in their requests for autographs and photos.
And Griffin never said no. He was always there with a smile and a laugh that could turn opposing team's fans into believers and leave media members on the edge of their seats.
Baylor's allotted media time with the team was every Monday afternoon. Players would stop by the Simpson Center, chat with reporters for a few minutes and get on with their days. Then there was RG3. He would be there long after the other players had left, finding time for every reporter who had a question. Even if it was his 20th interview of the day and the 100th time he'd been asked a question, Griff would find new ways to give an answer, adding information and entertaining anecdotes where he saw fit. Deadlines be damned, reporters would sit with RG3 for as long as time would allow, listening to him speak. It was a spectacle to behold.
Then there are my personal anecdotes. At red carpet shows at the ESPN Awards and the NFL Draft, Griffin would seek our staff out first, answering our questions and joking around with us before moving on to bigger and more established media outlets. I always appreciated that.
But Griffin's kindness extends beyond interviews and autographs. In college he volunteered with five charities, proposed to his longtime girlfriend by singing a love song that he wrote, and today he donates hours of his time and thousands of dollars to various causes.
Griffin's play on the field would leave any marketing and communications department salivating, but it's his unique attitude and his treatment of others that remains his most marketable — and most important — quality.