Robert Griffin III is everything that's great and terrifying about the NFL

Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

Robert Griffin III added to his legend Sunday, and even in a Redskins loss, he emerged looking like the most exciting player in football. And that's what makes him so terrifying.

Holy shit he's awesome. When he runs it doesn't even look like he's trying and he's still three steps faster than the fastest guys on the field. When he throws, he threads it perfectly through the defense, or sometimes over the top. Osi Umenyora and Jason Pierre-Paul spent the entire week laughing their way through interviews about the Redskins rookie quarterback, and there he was Sunday, dancing between them with the game on line, finding a wide open tight end for a game-saving first down on 4th and 10. HOLY SHIT!

This isn't a fluke, either. He's not winning because other teams can't figure him out, the way Cam Newton caught people off guard last year. The fourth down play wasn't even the most impressive thing he did Sunday. It was the next play, when he scrambled 25 yards past that superhuman Giants defensive line. Everyone else was running on ice and he was just calmly skating past them, and the whole thing just looked like a reflex. Then two plays later, a pass pinpointed 30 yards down the field, where he dropped the ball right over Santana Moss' shoulder for the go-ahead touchdown. Robert Griffin III is a cheat code brought to life.

Earlier this year someone on Twitter said he was the Kevin Durant of the NFL, and it totally works. He says all the right things, but not in a preachy way. He's flashy, but not in an obnoxious way. He's by far the best player on his team, but he never really acts like it. And mostly it works because both guys just seem too good to be true. The sky is the limit, etc. But RGIII isn't playing in the NBA, and that's where things get complicated.

Star-divide

I'm not even a Redskins fan, but I can't watch him play without quietly freaking out every time he gets hit. He's the most exciting player in football right now, and should be for the next 10 years as long as his body doesn't get shattered somewhere along the way.

Which ... well, it might.

There have been two great pieces on Griffin's health in the past two weeks, and both hit at the complex future here. Two Mondays ago, after Sean Witherspoon and the Falcons obliterated him into a concussed netherworld, Drew Magary wrote at Deadspin:

If you're a Redskins fan or you own Robert Griffin III in a fantasy league, you knew that what happened Sunday was going to happen at some point. ... The NFL will never allow you to escape unscathed when you play that way (and when coaches are stupid enough to force you to play that way). There are too many Sean Weatherspoons waiting for you just as you turn the corner, ready to knock you onto a career path that's nowhere near as exciting as the one your talent once suggested. And the funny thing is that we always hope there will be one QB who finally arrives who can break the trend, a QB who can survive while doing it all. RGIII looked the part until Sunday, and if he can't pull it off, I promise you no one can. RGIII looked the part until Sunday, and if he can't pull it off, I promise you no one can.

2. Last Monday, after he came back from that concussion, promised to avoid big hits, and dominated the Minnesota Vikings, Charlie Pierce wrote at Grantland:

Being honest with the doctors is becoming the essence of being a good teammate. "If I had been all right all week, and then shown up here today with symptoms," Griffin said, "I wouldn't have gone." ... Robert Griffin III is a great football player because he is careful, with the ball and with his head. He is the future, or there is none at all.

The first story's drenched in pessimism and centers on Griffin's future as a running QB; the second's broader and more optimistic. But they both end with basically the same theme. If he can't pull it off, no one can. ... He is the future, or there is none at all. Forget about the future, though. The anxiety underlying both those pieces is happening right now. Look at every hit he takes and the way everyone holds their breath until he gets back up. Because he's smaller than someone like Cam Newton, we're all twice as terrified about something going wrong here.

The NFL may sell itself as the ultimate Team Game where injuries are all about the Next Man Up, but nobody gives a shit about watching Kirk Cousins every week.

Star-divide

Yahoo! Sports wrote that Robert Griffin is "the future of the NFC East" after Sunday's Giants game, but given the injury risks, it's hard to say that without keeping your fingers crossed.

After two months watching him and and getting hooked and hoping nothing horrible happens, the only thing we can say for certain is that RGIII is the first player to make all our abstract Football Fears real. Where he's everyone's favorite son, and every big hit is another opportunity for a concussion that leaves us holding our breath, and we worry whether he can survive the NFL.

Every Sunday I get excited when RGIII is on local TV, then I turn on the game and remember how horrible the Redskins line is and how insane football is, and then I get worried that something horrible will happen to him before he can ever really do something great.

Star-divide

This all clicked for me as he shredded the Giants Sunday: fans and media care about Robert Griffin's future the way they pretend to care about every other player's future. Or if they don't now, they will soon, because it's only a matter of time before he wins everyone over.

It's easy to trick yourself into forgetting that NFL players are actual humans until you fall in love with one of them, and then all the talk about player safety becomes more than just lipservice. Then you're addicted to the most exciting player the NFL's seen in years, and you remember him flying past the Vikings or embarrassing the Giants, and you realize that if the NFL cripples him one day, this is the player who could maybe make you swear off pro football forever.

Holy shit he's awesome, and that's what makes this so terrifying.

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