NEW ORLEANS — When it happened, Mama Irene was in the kitchen.
Which, she says, was probably for the best. Avoiding the countless replays since then is hard enough because she cries just thinking about it.
Mama Irene is Irene Griffin, resident of the Lower Ninth Ward and grandmother of Robert Griffin III, whose parents Robert II and Jacqueline Griffin, grew up in New Orleans before winding up in Texas after both served in the Army for 20 years.
Mama Irene, as she is known to her 18 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, was home alone on Jan. 6 when RG3’s right knee buckled as he tried to field a shotgun snap early in the fourth quarter of the Washington Redskins’ wildcard-round playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The knee buckled because RG3’s injured LCL, which he’d been trying to tough out for a month playing while wearing a heavy leg brace, finally went from “strained” to “torn, damaging his ACL in the process.
That not only ended Griffin’s fabulous rookie season (and that of the Redskins, who lost 24-14), but it also put his future effectiveness, at least for 2013, into doubt depending on how he recovers from the surgery preformed two days later by Dr. James Andrews in Gulf Breeze, Fla.
Which doesn’t make Mama Irene happy.
“The coach (Mike Shanahan) should have taken him out of the game at the half,” she said. “Little Robert has a champion’s heart, and he would have never come off the field on his own.
“But that coach should have told him, ‘Robert, not today. There’ll be more seasons.’ ”
Welcome to the club, Mama Irene.
Griffin’s injury has stirred intense finger-pointing over who was at fault — Shanahan, Andrews, who was on the Redskins’ sideline, RG3, even the playing surface at FedEx Field.
In truth — it’s shared. Shanahan for feeling his team’s chance of advancing in the playoffs overrode replacing an obviously injured player, Andrews for not doing his job and putting a player’s well-being first, and RG3 for apparently feeling he was invincible and not considering the consequences to himself or the franchise which made a record trade (three first-round picks plus a second-rounder) to put itself in position to draft him.
The injury, or, more properly the circumstances around it, put a damper on a fairy-tale season in which the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor rejuvenated the Redskins by leading them to their first division title since 1999, finishing fourth in the league in quarterback rating and leading all quarterbacks in rushing yardage.
More than that, he became an inspirational role model nationwide because of the character he displayed. Because, in large part, as ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said, “He was raised right.”
And although RG3 has not spent much time in New Orleans since he and his sisters lived with Mama Irene two years while his parents were stationed in Korea, the city where he has his roots has embraced him, too, even if his team beat the Saints back in the season opener.
“Last Sunday, a woman came up to me in church and said, ‘How’s my grandson doing?’” Mama Irene said. “He’s just loved by everybody.
“Little Robert has this special gift God’s given him. God made us all in his image, but he didn’t give the same talents to everybody.”
Now, RG3 is working to restore those talents, doing rehab in Florida.
Mama Irene, who has to get around on a walker because of a stroke she suffered in 2004 and has other health issues, hasn’t been able to visit him yet. In fact, she hasn’t even spoken directly to her grandson, following his recovery through Robert II.
But Mama Irene, a deeply religious woman, has no doubts about where this story will end.
“Little Robert has to be more careful, because he’s so good that the other teams are going to want to hurt him,” she said. “I pray all the time for God to be with him, and because God is first in his life, he will be.
“He’s going to come back more powerful than he was before. That’s my belief.”