It was August 28, 2008. The score: Wake Forest 17, Baylor 0. Art Briles, coaching in his first game at Baylor, was looking for anything to spark his offense. Briles benched starting quarterback Kirby Freeman and in went the true freshman from Copperas Cove, Robert Griffin III.
Things didn't exactly start fast for Griffin either. The first two possessions of leading the Baylor offense in his career ended in a punt and a turnover on downs. However, it was on his third possession (or, "III" possession as some would say), with 3:23 to go in the second quarter that the legend known as "RG3" was born. With an empty backfield, Griffin took a snap from the shotgun and ran to the left. With blockers ahead of him, Griffin, drawing "oohs" and "aahs" from the home crowd, did a stop and start move that caused a Wake Forest defender to miss him completely and go flying into the Baylor bench. Griffin proceeded to tightrope the sideline before finally being tackled at the Wake Forest 12 yard line for a gain of 22 yards. The Bears scored on the very next play and Griffin would go on to start every game from there on out in 2008.
In 2009, Baylor, lead by RG3, looked to end a fifteen-year bowl drought. The Bears were off to a 2-1 start following a victory over Northwestern State, but Griffin had suffered an unknown leg injury in the win. An MRI exam conducted the next day showed that Griffin suffered an isolated tear to his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and would be forced to miss the rest of the season. The Bears finished the year 4-8 overall with a 1-7 conference record. Due to only playing in 25% of Baylor's games and suffering a season ending injury, Griffin was granted his medical hardship waiver from the NCAA and regained a year of eligibility.
What followed was an offseason riddled with questions about Griffin's surgically repaired knee. The national media pondered whether or not we would ever see the same electrifying athlete that dazzled audiences in 2008, while battered and pessimistic Baylor fans wondered if the Bears would ever make it to a bowl game as a member of the Big 12 (or whether or not the Bears would soon still be in the Big 12). Griffin answered all of those questions by passing for 3,501 yards and 22 touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore. The Bears went 7-6 in 2010 and 4-4 in conference; their first conference record of .500 or better since the inception of the Big 12. Baylor also ended their sixteen-year bowl drought by playing Illinois in the 2010 Texas Bowl. It certainly was not the peak of the mountain, but Griffin and Briles proved the world over that Baylor was still climbing.
Coming into 2011, expectations were higher than ever before. The Bears returned eight starters from last season's offense, making for an expected potent attack headed by RG3. For the year, Baylor is second in total offense (571.25 ypg), sixth in scoring offense (43.5 ppg), fifth in passing offense (356.17 ypg), and eighteenth in rushing offense (215.08 ypg). Robert Griffin III is sixth nationally in passing (333.17 ypg), first in passing efficiency (192.31 quarterback rating), fourth in passing touchdowns (36), second in total offense (386.83 ypg), and first in points responsible for (22.67 ppg). In addition to his statistics, RG3 had signature moments this season including a five touchdown performance in Baylor's opener against TCU, a 21 point comeback on the road against Kansas, a last-minute game winning touchdown pass against Oklahoma, and a Heisman campaign capping statement in a 48-24 win over Texas.
Griffin has led the Bears to a 9-3 record in the regular season and a berth in the Alamo Bowl. The nine wins are Baylor's most since 1986. Should the Bears defeat the Washington Huskies on December 29, Baylor would have ten wins for only the second time in school history (1980 being the first). Baylor, which is currently ranked 12th in the AP poll, would also have the chance to finish in the top ten of a major poll for the first time since 1951 with a win. The historical impact Griffin has made on Baylor's program truly is remarkable.
Tonight, the world's eyes were on New York City's Downtown Athletic Club where Robert Griffin III, Wisconsin's Montee Ball, Stanford's Andrew Luck, LSU's Tyrann Mathieu, and Alabama's Trent Richardson had own their eyes on college football's most prestigious individual award: the Heisman Trophy.
The Heisman, awarded each year to college football's most outstanding player, has been in existence since 1935. It is considered not only the most prestigious individual award in college football, but also arguably the most sought after individual award in all American athletics - both amateur and professional. In the Heisman's 76 years of existence, it had never had a winner from Baylor University.
That changed tonight. Robert Griffin III is the winner of the 2011 Heisman Trophy.
Getting to this point took overcoming several challenges and proving people wrong. To start his career, Griffin dispelled the notion that he was only a track athlete and could never play quarterback in Division-I football. His critics called him strictly a running quarterback who could not throw. He proved them wrong again. The non-believers claimed that Griffin wouldn't be able to get Baylor bowl eligible, much less have a winning season in the Big 12. Once again, they were wrong. The so-called experts doubted his ability to defeat teams such as TCU, Oklahoma and Texas while also putting up All-American statistics. The stats say otherwise and they do not lie. And just ten days ago, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said,
"He's from Baylor. He's NOT going to win the Heisman."
He proved him wrong.
Only two challenges remain for RG3 this season. One is to defeat Washington in less than three weeks in San Antonio. The other? Decide whether or not to return to Baylor for a senior season. While Griffin's NFL draft stock has never been higher than it is now, he has also explicitly stated on numerous occasions that he does not want his decision to be about money. And although Griffin has won multiple awards, set countless Baylor records and lead the Bears to national prominence, there is one thing he has yet to do in Waco: win a championship. Baylor still has not won a conference championship since 1994 and has never won a national championship. With RG3 at the helm in 2012, the Bears would certainly be a contender for the former and possibly for the latter as well.
Now that a historic season is nearly in the books and the Heisman is in hand, I am confident that no matter what decision Griffin makes, Baylor fans should support him and support him they will. But seeing as how those outside of Baylor Nation may assume Griffin is leaving because he is too good for Waco and little old Baylor, perhaps it is time for RG3 to prove 'em wrong one more time...