Tribune-Herald Sportsman of the Year: Robert Griffin

Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin has been the ultimate prize for Baylor and the Central Texas sports community.

Since its arrival in Waco a couple of weekends ago, the Heisman Trophy has posed for more than a few photographs.

Not all of those photos have included Robert Griffin, either.

The 48-pound trophy, which travels in its own custom-built steel carrying case, has made the rounds in the Baylor locker room, through the athletic facilities and beyond. Dozens of people have stood and smiled next to the award, their images frozen for posterity on Facebook and Christmas cards.

Seems that when Griffin said the award was a “we” thing, he wasn’t kidding.

It’s not just because Griffin captured college football’s most prestigious prize that made him the overwhelming choice as the Tribune-Herald ’s second annual Sportsman of the Year. Sure, he was potent and prolific, dynamic and dominant. If it wanted to, a Waco movie theater could air his highlight film to a packed house.

But great players come and go. Griffin’s impact was so wide-ranging because of the selfless way in which he played. He’s as big-hearted as he is well-armed. He’s a sportsman in the truest sense of the word.

“It’s more than what you do on the field,” Griffin said when asked to define the word sportsman. “It’s just how you carry yourself. I’m a team player to the fullest. That’s how I’ve always been, and that’s part of being a sportsman.”

Since winning the Heisman, Griffin — always a media magnet — has endured a whirlwind interview tour that included a stop reading the famed Top Ten List on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” Griffin admits that the constant media attention, with interviewers often asking the same questions over and over, can be exhausting. But in his mind, it comes with the territory.

“It’s been crazy, but I try to look at it positively, because when you’re doing good things people are going to want to talk to you,” he said. “It’s tiring. But you’ve got to do it.”

Then he added with a laugh, “The university is going to ride you like a pony, and you’ve got to make sure you’re a pretty good show pony.”

Griffin is level-headed enough that the media blitz doesn’t faze him. He credits his parents, Robert Griffin Jr. and Jacqueline, with instilling discipline and raising him right.

While in New York, Griffin and his parents visited Ground Zero. His aunt worked in the World Trade Center in 2001, but fortunately was at home the day of the terrorist attacks.

“I can only imagine what those people who had family members who were lost went through,” Griffin said.

Following the Heisman ceremony, Griffin also toured a New York hospital to visit with sick children. He posed for pictures, handed out footballs and just tried to brighten the kids’ day.

“It just lets you know how much of an impact you have and the stage you do have,” Griffin said. “You say, ‘OK, I’m a football player. I’m the face of the program. I know I have a lot of influence.’ But until you actually get out and see that influence, to have a kid who’s dying and may have a couple more days or a couple more weeks left, and they’re so excited to see you. You give them a ball and that’s their world. It really does touch you.”

Former Baylor coach Grant Teaff recognized Griffin’s compassion in the quarterback’s first season on campus. As a freshman, Griffin and his family attended the funeral of Kyle Woods, a former BU player who lived for 30 years as a paraplegic after suffering an injury in practice.

“I asked him, ‘Did you know Kyle personally?’” Teaff recalled. “And he said, ‘Oh, no sir, I just know he’s very, very important to Baylor University. We wanted to be here to honor him and to honor Baylor.’ So before he took a snap, before he ran a track meet, he had my heart, because he’s a person who cares.”

Griffin’s philanthropy is seen in his service to organizations like Friends for Life and Special Olympics. He donates his time constantly. He’s not just the face of Baylor’s program, but a legitimate ambassador.

“As a coach, one of the things I’m most proud of is seeing our guys give back, seeing them grow and develop as great human beings,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “It’s really the things that churns me and gives me a fire burning inside every day. ... Robert is that kind of individual — not just a great player, but a great human being.”

Generally, wherever he goes, all eyes are trained on Griffin’s every move. That attention has only amplified since winning the Heisman. Everyone wants a piece of Griffin, whether it’s a photo or an interview, a hug or a handshake.

More often than not, he’s all too willing to share.

“Everybody’s watching you, but the way I look at that is that you can’t look at it negatively,” Griffin said. “You can’t say, ‘Well, I can’t do anything, because everybody’s watching.’

“You go out and do everything you possibly can, so you can influence people in the right way.”

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SPORTSMAN OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

Here is a look at the other four finalists for the Tribune-Herald ’s second annual Sportsman of the Year honor:

Melissa Jones: The scrappy all-Big 12 guard’s self-sacrificing style of play was never more evident than when she flung herself to the court in pursuit of a loose ball against Oklahoma. Jones bumped her head on the court on the play, leading to a loss of sight in her right eye. Yet she refused to quit, returning to guide the Lady Bears to the Elite Eight. Following the season, Baylor retired MJ’s No. 5 jersey and introduced the “Melissa Jones Hustle and Courage Award.” In June, she was honored as the Big 12 Female Sportsperson of the Year for her sportsmanship and community service.

Darrell Harris: In an era of pass-happy spread offenses, the Waco High senior turned in one of the greatest rushing seasons Central Texas has ever seen. Shredding up yards like a weed-whacker, Harris broke Louis Fite’s 21-year-old school rushing record. For the season he topped the 300-yard plateau four times, finishing with 2,567 yards and 25 total touchdowns.

Arthur Rhodes: A year after making his first All-Star appearance, Waco’s longest-tenured major leaguer ever claimed his first World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals. Rhodes actually pitched for the Texas Rangers, the American League World Series entrant, before being released and signing with the Cardinals in August. In eight playoff games for St. Louis, the former La Vega standout didn’t allow an earned run. His Cardinals team also included former Astros slugger Lance Berkman, another ballplayer born in Waco.

Art Briles: Baylor’s fourth-year football coach presided over one of the best seasons in school history in 2011. The Bears’ nine wins are the program’s most since 1986, and a victory in the Alamo Bowl on Thursday would yield just the second 10-win season in 113 years of Baylor football. For his efforts, Briles has been named a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award.

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