Thursday, March 31, 2016

Two Different Farewells, One Grand Lesson

Published previously by The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

March announces the arrival of shamrocks, leprechauns, green beer and, for sports enthusiasts, the madness of the NCAA basketball tournament. 

But this piece isn’t about the coming of basketball’s greatest event; it’s about the once unimaginable farewell of two shooting stars across the area’s skyline. 

On September 9, 2012, less than four years but a lifetime ago, Washington rookies Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris debuted and powered the ‘Skins to a 40-32 upset of the New Orleans Saints.  In what would become a recurring storyline of their Washington tenures, Griffin was exalted after throwing for 320 yards and two touchdowns, while the steady, workmanlike Morris rushed for an oh-by-the-way 96 yards and two touchdowns.  The famous Griffin and under-appreciated Morris were born: The roles fit the players’ personalities, how they arrived in Washington and how each man chose to conduct his NFL business.

Griffin, of course, was the second overall pick in the draft, an electric, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who relished the spotlight, had charisma to burn and injected a demoralized fanbase with an overdose of hope.  Griffin parlayed his fame and instant NFL success into a personal brand.  He hawked sports drinks, athletic shoes and subs.  He spewed slogans, tweeted virally and developed a personal logo.  Robert Griffin/Clark Kent was transformed into RGIII/Superman.  It worked in his fabulous rookie year, but as he encountered injuries and adversity, the intensely prideful Griffin passive-aggressively quarreled with coaches, dodged blame and was unable to accept the reality of his severely degraded performance.  

Morris, meanwhile, was an anonymous sixth round selection from Florida Atlantic.  He befittingly arrived in Washington in a vintage 1991 Mazda 626.  With nothing guaranteed, the humble Morris fought his way onto the roster and parlayed a strong preseason into a starting job that he would hold for four years.  Morris was consistently available, productive, the consummate teammate and a beacon in the community.  Despite two Pro Bowl appearances, Morris lived below the radar, generated no drama (unlike Griffin) and demonstrated a quality of character that is the dream of any organization and the goal of every well-intended parent. 

Considering Griffin’s cataclysmic demise, it would be easy to point a finger at the one-time wunderkind quarterback with the unquenchable thirst for fame and pontificate about how his narcissism and endless flirtations with extraneous football activities contributed to his fall.  To further the point, Morris, a guy that did everything the right way by any old school measure of personal success, would be put forth as the example of how to earn your way in the world.  The problem is, after four years in D.C., both players found themselves in a similar state: unemployed.

A 2016 ‘Skins roster absent both Griffin and Morris would have been unfathomable after that victorious September Sunday in 2012.  But here we are on Planet Bizarro. So if Griffin made many missteps and Morris did everything right, yet both arrived at the same unfortunate place, is there any sense to be made of this?  Any teaching point to glean. A success formula to follow? Any nugget of wisdom to file? 

There is, but only if differences are ignored and Griffin and Morris are considered as an inseparable duo.  If I walked into a classroom and 30 sets of young eyes were staring at me in anticipation of a life lesson, here’s what I’d say…

As a new team member, earn your place.  Don’t act entitled and don’t do things that separate yourself from the group.  If you have a problem with someone, talk to them directly and in private - social media isn’t your friend.  Accept constructive criticism.  Own your mistakes.  Be self-deprecating.  And if you rise to a leadership position, absorb blame and deflect credit.  But know that even if you do all these things, the world is inherently unfair.  It will deal you an undeserved hand.  It will discard you at the hint of decline.  When it does, recover, get up and steadfastly chart a new course on the bumpy road to success.

I’m betting on a second act for Griffin and Morris to validate that last point.  

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