On the heels of football disgrace in The Big Easy, the National Football League desperately needs a new hero. If at all possible, one who is an Eagle Scout, the varsity captain and a former altar boy. Or maybe the intelligent, well-spoken, athletically dazzling son of two U.S. Army sergeants.
When Commissioner Roger Goodell made his league-shaking "Bountygate" announcement on March 2, he emphasized that: "It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game and this type of conduct will not be tolerated." Of course he did.
Bountygate was not born of young and hungry investigative journalism. It was launched when the NFL decided to listen to their security department and bust themselves -- undoubtedly just before some 21st Century Woodward and Bernstein did it for them.
However, there apparently was a pigskin "Deep Throat" who blew the whistle on the Saints defense after observing what many of us viewed as (at the least) unsportsmanlike hits on both Kurt Warner and Brett Favre during the 2009 playoffs.
But secret meetings in parking structures were not really required. The hits in question occurred on national television, although evidently not in the line of sight for certain referees.
It took the NFL two more seasons to announce the scandal. Yeah. Did you see Brett Favre's ankle after that game? Because the rest of us did, Roger. No. 4 literally shrugged it all off with a typical, "It's football." Of course he did.
I'm not sure that Deanna Favre or Ashley Manning would be quite so understanding. And if you are going to discuss this issue with Brenda Warner, I suggest that you do it from a safe distance.
It's not as if we are truly shocked that football players might intentionally hurt an opponent. We don't let the thought float to the top of our consciousness very often. We want to believe in sportsmanship, competitive fairness and letting the best team win. We know football doesn't always work this way. Life certainly doesn't. But we would like, for a few hours every Sunday, to believe. Especially these days.
To think otherwise would require us to stop loving football -- and that is not a position into which we wish to be forced.
After all, we revere the Steel Curtain and the Doomsday Defense. But there is a difference between:
"The game is designed to reward the ones who hit the hardest. If you can't take it, you shouldn't play."
"I like to believe that my best hits border on felonious assault."
The NFL needs a role model. Preferably someone as yet untainted by the sordid topic of coin. Preferably someone wholesome. Preferably someone with a great smile, a quick wit and a sharp mind. And preferably someone with outstanding athletic gifts. Let's face it; the NFL needs Michael Vick's talent combined with Tim Tebow's character.
Enter Robert Griffin III. Though I haven't found evidence of Eagle Scout status, Griffin may have been too busy starring in three sports and graduating from Copperas Cove High School a semester early so that he could get a jump on completing a Bachelors in Political Science in three years at Baylor University -- while winning the Heisman Trophy and starting his Masters in Communications.
The Mannings are NFL royalty on and off the gridiron. Archie and Olivia certainly seem close to sainthood in the parenting department based on the character of their progeny. But they don't appear to have anything on Jacqueline and Robert Griffin, Jr.
Andrew Luck is purportedly the best rookie QB to come out of college since Peyton Manning. I'll leave that irony for another column.
Luck will be the centerpiece of a publicly rebuilding Colts franchise. The Stanford QB seems to operate more in the unflappable Eli Manning mode than as an "out front" entertainer.
RGIII is the one with the sizzle. Griffin is going to be heralded somewhere as a savior -- hopefully with a small "s." His charisma is going to make him a media lightening rod and probably an instant fan favorite.
The NFL is desperately hoping that he stays healthy, wholesome and successful. It will help a lot of us to believe that football is a game we can still love.