What Can Robert Griffin III Learn from Donovan McNabb?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IJune 3, 2013

May 23, 2013; Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) prepares to throw the ball during organized team activities at Redskins Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

There are few quarterbacks in modern NFL history that can match Donovan McNabb's experience over the vast range of issues—both on and off the field—that so routinely plague the game's most important position. 

Ahead of the 2013 season, McNabb is ready to share some of his intimate knowledge with Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. 

According to Mike Wise of the Washington Post, McNabb has unsuccessfully attempted to contact Griffin III in the past but is now ready to have a sit down with the NFL's rising star.

The goal? To provide Griffin III with some context on his early career, a “What the Young Fella Needs to Know" conversation, as Wise so perfectly put it. 

While McNabb didn't stop short of criticizing both Griffin III and his father (Robert Griffin II) in the interview, there's no shortage of things the young Redskins quarterback could learn from the now retired McNabb. 

From his boo-clouded entry to the NFL in 1999 to his final seasons with the Redskins and Minnesota Vikings, McNabb has dealt with criticisms about performance on the field, injury issues and recoveries, social discourse and even the fragile relationship between franchise quarterback and volatile receiver. 

Dealing with the waves of quarterbacking criticism might be a good place for the two to start.

Griffin III might have skated through his first NFL season relatively criticism-free, but playing the most talked about position in sports will eventually lead to times where the print on Griffin III isn't all roses and rainbows.

McNabb would know. 

Taken second overall in the 1999 NFL draft by the Eagles, McNabb was immediately booed by the Philadelphia fans in attendance at Radio City Music Hall. The Syracuse quarterback wasn't the pick most wanted; record-breaking running back Ricky Williams was. 

Even three-straight Pro Bowl appearances from 2000-2002 didn't stop some from taking aim at McNabb. 

During the 2002 season, McNabb broke his fibula late in Week 11. He returned for the postseason, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers upset the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. 

The next season, and after an 0-2 start, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves on ESPN's NFL Countdown and blasted McNabb in a racially-charged criticism of the quarterback's abilities. 

Sorry to say this, I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well. There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team.

The stinging commentary set off a tidal wave of controversy, with Limbaugh eventually being removed at ESPN.

Sound familiar? 

Last January, analyst Rob Parker was let go by ESPN after his racially-motivated opinions on Griffin III landed him in hot water, per Pro Football Talk.

Unfortunately, racial criticisms are an issue both McNabb and Griffin III could share a lot about. 

Yet despite Limbaugh's attack in 2003, McNabb would rally the Eagles from an 0-2 start to the doorstep of the Super Bowl. 

McNabb would once again fall short, with the Eagles losing to the Carolina Panthers at home in the NFC Championship Game, 14-3. The loss marked McNabb's third-straight in an NFC title Game, which again gave outsiders another golden opportunity to take down the Eagles quarterback. 

No longer was McNabb a rising quarterback star, with wins and Pro Bowl appearances delivered at a pace never seen in Philadelphia. He was a choker, a leader incapable of delivering a Super Bowl or playing his best in the biggest games. 

As McNabb knows, nothing can change faster than the national opinion of a high-profile quarterback. 

Down the road, it's possible a town starved for its first Super Bowl appearance since 1991 could turn on Griffin III if wins and performances don't follow in the postseason. To his credit, McNabb has the experience of turning those criticisms into later results. 

The next year, in 2004, McNabb produced arguably the best season of his NFL career. The Eagles went 13-2 in regular-season games he started, while McNabb threw for 3,875 yards, 31 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. His passer rating of 104.7 was forth best in the NFL and the best of his career. 

McNabb also finally broke through in the postseason, leading the Eagles to wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons to reach the Super Bowl. He did it all without star receiver Terrell Owens, who was out with a broken ankle. 

However, Super Bowl XXXIX only provided more ammunition for the McNabb bashers. He threw three interceptions, and the Eagles were unable to complete a comeback late when the offense operated at a questionably slow pace. 

McNabb was again to blame. 

Teammates said afterwards that McNabb was physically ill late in the game, to the point of throwing up. Freddie Mitchell claimed he had to finish calling certain plays because McNabb couldn't. 

Afterwards, criticism came from all angles. Even McNabb's star receiver turned. 

Owens, a lightning rod for controversy, spent the next season doing his best to get out of Philadelphia, with McNabb as his primary target. He eventually got his wish. Despite combining with McNabb for 20 touchdowns in just 21 games over two seasons, Owens was sent packing after the 2005 season. 

Griffin III does not have an Owens-like personality in his receiving group currently, but there may come a time when he deals with the kind of quarterback-receiver issues that McNabb once suffered through. 

Even if that isn't the case, McNabb can provide more perspective on Griffin III's most pressing issue: his comeback from severe injury.

McNabb's post-Owens seasons in Philadelphia were plagued by a various number of ailments, with the most serious coming in 2006, when McNabb tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during a Week 11 contest with the Tennessee Titans

After missing the rest of the season, McNabb returned ahead of schedule to begin the following training camp and preseason. He eventually started for the Eagles in Week 1 of the 2007 season. 

Griffin III is facing a similar set of circumstances now, although his recovery schedule has been sped up considerably over McNabb's. After tearing his ACL in the Wild Card round of the 2012 playoffs, Griffin III is attempting to start under center for the Redskins to start this coming season. 

McNabb already offered a little bit of injury advice to RGIII in his interview with Wise. 

One thing Andy Reid did is he never let the injured guys become the story if they were off to the side at practice. He thought it took away from the guys who were grinding and practicing every day. So when I look up on TV and see him up there talking all the time about how great he’s doing — or doing jumping jacks or someone else talking about his supernatural healing powers — I wonder to myself: Is this about selling tickets to the fans or what?

McNabb also knows that expectations for both Griffin III and the Redskins will be sky-high in 2013, despite his return from major reconstructive knee surgery. 

McNabb struggled at times after coming off his own ACL surgery, and the Eagles limped out to a 3-5 start back in 2007. He told Wise that he worries about something similar happening to Griffin III in 2013. 

Especially if Robert doesn’t play at first or isn’t right for the first eight weeks and it takes a while for him to become the player he was, so what if you start 2-6 or 3-5? Then everybody wonders what happened, starts thinking, ‘But wait, you told us he was great a few months ago. He told us he was great.'

McNabb is also no stranger to criticism in the Washington area. 

His one year with the Redskins served up some highs, more lows and arguably the worst year of McNabb's NFL career. He signed a five-year deal worth almost $80 million with the club but was traded to the Vikings during the next offseason. 

After one final season in Minnesota, McNabb's NFL career was over. 

McNabb may not receive the friendliest response from Redskins fans now, but he has the kind of football wisdom that could aid Griffin III early in his NFL career. 

Few at his position have dealt with a more vast range of the modern issues facing quarterbacks.

In fact, it might not be the worst thing for Griffin III to finally connect with McNabb. The young star could gain valuable insight on what he'll be up against later down the road as an NFL quarterback in the digital age.


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