As the NFL playoffs kick off this weekend, Robert Griffin III will try to lead the Washington Redskins to another historic Super Bowl victory. Twenty-five years after Doug Williams led Washington to a stunning 42-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, RGIII will begin his quest to put his own name in the record books.
Williams won Super Bowl MVP honors for his 340-yard, four-touchdown performance on Jan. 31, 1988. He also became the first African-American quarterback to lead a team to the Lombardi Trophy.
Griffin III will attempt to become the second black quarterback to win the NFL title—and the first rookie to do so.
Like Williams, RGIII would likely need to deliver an MVP-caliber performance for the Redskins to earn a victory over the Denver Broncos or New England Patriots, the prohibitive favorites in the AFC.
Aside from Williams and Griffin III both being African-American quarterbacks for the Washington Redskins, there are other similarities between the 1987 playoffs and this year’s postseason tournament.
The Redskins, at 10-6, will again enter this year as the NFC East champions. Washington also won the division in 1987, finishing with an 11-4 record during the strike-shortened season.
The Denver Broncos enter the playoffs as the AFC’s top seed—just as they did in 1987—following an 11-game winning streak that left them with a 13-3 record overall. The ‘87 Broncos, led by league MVP John Elway, finished with a 10-4-1 record that year.
Ah yes, the quarterbacks.
As you may have guessed by now, the Redskins aren’t the only team whose 2012 quarterback resembles their team’s 1987 counterpart.
Like Elway, Peyton Manning has a chance to be the regular-season MVP for the Broncos during the same campaign that he leads the team to the Super Bowl. A championship game appearance by Manning would be the third of his career; the same as Elway when he led Denver into Super Bowl XXII.
It also goes without saying that Manning, like Elway, will find himself in Canton shortly after his NFL career ends. Both are on the short list of the greatest players of all time at the quarterback position.
In fact, Manning and Elway have more in common than Griffin III and Williams do in terms of their respective pedigrees and style of play.
Both Broncos quarterbacks came out of college hyped as franchise saviors and the No. 1 overall pick in their respective drafts (1983 for Elway, 1998 for Manning). Elway was considerably more mobile than Manning, and a better overall athlete, but both were regarded as smart, strong, classic gunslingers.
At 6’4” and 220 pounds, Williams was built more like Manning and Elway. He too entered the NFL as a first-round pick (No. 17 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) following a standout career at Grambling State University (where he is currently in his second stint as the head football coach).
But Williams was never perceived to be the can’t-miss star that Manning, Elway and Griffin III were projected to be.
The NFL spotlight began to shine on RGIII almost immediately after winning the 2011 Heisman Trophy as a dual-threat quarterback at Baylor University. While Griffin literally has world-class speed (he placed third in 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA meet as true freshman in 2008), his ability to throw the football has never been questioned.
Griffin III’s NFL future was thought to be so bright that Washington traded four draft picks to the St. Louis Rams—including three first-rounders—to move up to the No. 2 pick in the 2012 draft. After a spectacular rookie season, RGIII appears to be worth all the fuss.
After a rocky 3-6 start, RGIII led the Redskins to seven consecutive wins en route to the division crown and a playoff berth. He finished third in the NFL in quarterback rating (102.3) and had the fewest interceptions (five) of any starting quarterback with at least 350 pass attempts during the season.
Even with Griffin III’s greatness, Washington has the toughest route to the Super Bowl of any team hosting a game on Wild Card Weekend. On Sunday afternoon, the Redskins host the proverbial team-that-no-one-wants-to-face in the Seattle Seahawks.
Should they survive that battle, the Redskins would likely travel to Atlanta the following week to face the top-seeded Falcons in the Divisional Round.
If Washington manages to upset the Falcons, they would likely have to face the San Francisco 49ers or Green Bay Packers, on the road, in the NFC Championship Game. Those two teams are a combined 13-2-1 at home this season.
Despite the serendipitous setup of the 2012 playoffs, Griffin III and the Redskins are unlikely to emerge from this postseason as NFL champions. Even if the 25-year anniversary of Doug Williams' memorable victory does not have the happiest of endings, Washingtonians have every reason to feel optimistic about their team’s future.
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