It was the first time he talked to him. It was the only time he talked to him.
"I was coaching on defense then," new Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson said.
It was the 2012 NFL season, Cincinnati was at Washington in Week 3 and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III had surfaced swiftly. He was proving worthy of his elite product endorsements and catchy moniker -- RG3.
"We had some injuries in the secondary," Jackson recalled. "I had really pushed our guys to get ready, because we were playing against this special new player, Robert Griffin III. I walked up to him before the game and congratulated him on being in the league and being the starting quarterback of a team and franchise I had once worked for, one with such great tradition. I told him he was representing a lot of great quarterbacks who played there before him."
Jackson and Griffin did not meet or shake hands again until nearly two weeks ago when Griffin walked through the Browns door.
Cincinnati won that game 38-31. Griffin rolled onward to become the league's rookie of the year. Jackson the season prior had been fired as Oakland Raiders head coach after one 8-8 season. Griffin in the 2012 playoffs suffered a grisly knee injury, toiled through a head coaching change from Mike Shanahan to Jay Gruden, was benched last year, did not play a single regular-season down and was cut by Washington on March 7. The No. 2 pick in the 2012 NFL draft lost his job to the No. 102 pick in the same draft, Kirk Cousins. Griffin was pushed all the way back to the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, behind Colt McCoy.
But on March 19, Griffin walked through the Browns' door.
On March 24, he signed.
Jackson gets a second chance at being an NFL head coach. Griffin gets a second chance at becoming a prime NFL starting quarterback.
"His situation was tough, no different than me being fired from the Raiders," Jackson said. "You have to find inner strength. This young man, he's had his butt kicked up over his shoulders. Not just in football, but in life. It's a blessing for both of us. It's God. I will put in a lot of hard work, reflecting and trying to do better than I did before. We are getting a player 4 years old in the league. One who has had success and failures. Now he has to make the choice which side of the ledger he wants to be on.
"In his visit, in his eyes, I saw a young man looking for an opportunity. Someone to believe in him. Someone to fight through all of this together. In his heart, he has always been a good man. No one can question that. He showed humility. A willingness to do what we asked. An opportunity to fix some things. Someone to help see it through."
* * *
Jackson is 50. Griffin is 26.
They connect again on Monday when Browns players report for offseason workouts that run until June 10.
Sure, Jackson says, Griffin has a chance to be his starting quarterback. No, Jackson insists, this is not centered on the gift of resurrection.
"He's got to earn it," Jackson said. "He's got the chance. We'll see. He's on our team for a reason. He is not here for me to get to know him."
And navigate how to be himself, yet, not crush relationships and opportunity.
Let's get this straight about Griffin's time in Washington -- everything that went wrong was not solely his fault. Mistakes were made from the top of the organization down. He was coddled too much then pushed too far. His injuries ruined his growth and maturation, yet there was too little patience for either.
He entered the NFL with a 3.67 GPA from Baylor and a political science degree. He was born in Japan, the son of military parents. He has something to say and, sometimes in Washington, said too much of it.
He is not the first player whose intelligence is so off the charts that it can make peers and coaches coil. He is not the first player who had trouble dialing it back, making it fit in certain team-oriented situations. He is not the first young quarterback to struggle reading defenses. He is not the first to create an opening blaze of glory and then strain.
But he is one of few who have been encircled by such intense jolts of spit and venom. It got venomous in Washington. It got personal. Team officials and coaches told me he did not work hard enough, that his relationship with owner Daniel Synder was too cozy, that he began to stroll with an air of un-coachable superiority. The flip side was his early injuries and psyche were mishandled by the entire Washington organization. And then he and Gruden failed to connect. Gruden demanded a quarterback who sees the game, who sees offense the way he sees it. And that was never Griffin.
Griffin frequently gets torched, but this fire spread well beyond him. Sometimes, especially in the NFL, things simply don't mesh. In Washington, they did not for Robert Lee Griffin III. For RG3.
"This young man, people know exactly who he is," Jackson said. "`He took the league by storm. He was injured. It was devastating. It was a lot."
Looks like, sounds like just "Robert," right now, serves Griffin best.
* * *
Hard work. Head down. That is Jackson's way. He is looking for that from Griffin.
Jackson said that reports that Griffin was working with quarterback trainer Tom House are inaccurate. Jackson said: "Tom is a personal friend. He is someone I confide in. But Robert is not working with him. Robert has been home with his family in Texas."
He is in Cleveland on Monday.
Jackson said the work will start from the "head down," in the classroom as his offense is installed. He disagrees with the notion that Griffin is a "system" quarterback who must use his legs as much as his arm.
"Every quarterback must use his legs to be successful," Jackson said. "The days of being a statue in the pocket are gone. Tom Brady uses his legs. Peyton Manning used his. Obviously, Robert has some special gifts there. I think the guy is coming to play quarterback for us. It's not system this or that."
Jackson said his focus is that Griffin is a Cleveland Brown. He embraces this Heisman Trophy winner, his 6'2, 225 pounds, his career touchdown/interception differential of 40/23 and his career passer rating of 91.0. His talent. This possible awakening.
Jackson and all of the Bengals coaches remember that Week 3 matchup from 2012 when Griffin's passes were whizzing through the air. They were surprised by the zip he had on the ball. They did not realize he could dial it quite like that.
"That is yet to be seen and determined," Jackson said. "I know this young man has great confidence and dedication and desire. He wants to, and he would not be a part of our organization if not. We'll take it all in and we have work to do. Keep our heads down. Grind. Stack good days on top of good days. That's how good things happen."