Philadelphia, PA – The most significant play of Baylor's young, magical season didn't come on one of Robert Griffin III's six touchdowns last weekend against Rice. Those are highlight reels. The rest of the clips are meant for the cutting room floors at television networks across the country.
But on one of the forgotten plays, a freak run late in the second quarter, we really learned just how valuable Griffin the quarterback is and just how indispensable a leader he has become.
Griffin flushed out of the pocket for a 26-yard run that ended with him being surrounded by a gang of Rice players near the goal line. In that moment Griffin had decided he was going to soar over all of them and break the plane for a score. Except he never got airborne. An Owl defender stripped the ball out, and Griffin was crushed on the ground. Too much was on the line to pull up and slide, even with Baylor leading by 18.
"You can go out in a blaze of glory and try to jump, or you can look like a sissy and get on the ground," Griffin said of the play. "And I chose the blaze of glory route. It was a blaze."
The blaze was the latest in the adventures of Griffin, simply known as RG3 around the country.
RG3 is the hottest nickname in college football right now. It's sleek. It's futuristic. It makes this dude sound like a machine, which is hard to argue right now. His numbers are almost automatic. RG3 has more touchdown passes than incompletions, leads the country in quarterback rating and has his offense churning out nearly 600 yards per game.
Still, there have been little moments during the first three games that prove there's nothing robotic about Griffin. He has a pain threshold. He has heart.
He caught a pass over the middle on a flea flicker against TCU in the opener, and got absolutely drilled by a safety. It didn't look like he was going to get up. He did.
That was on third down, on the game-winning drive in an upset win. He was acrobatic in the first half against FCS-opponent Stephen F. Austin in a blowout win, going aerial for extra yards when he could've easily saved the theatrics for Big 12 play. Then there was the brick wall at the Rice goal line.
"We're having alot of fun," said Griffin after the Rice win. "I was talking to coach on the sideline, you know, we work too hard to be normal."
Griffin and Baylor are all in. The unbeaten Bears are No.15 in the polls heading into Saturday's Big 12 opener at Kansas State, the highest ranking for the program in 20 years.
Baylor's last bowl win? That came in 1992, in the John Hancock Bowl nonetheless. There have been some rough years for Griffin at Baylor. He tore his ACL and missed most of the 2009 season, and the Bears have finished 15-22 prior to 2011. Grander bowl ideas exist in Waco these days, but nobody is shouting Baylor and football renaissance in the same breath just yet.
The Big 12 schedule is unforgiving, as the Bears must travel to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State in back to back games in October, and will host Oklahoma and Texas over the final three weeks of the season. Go 4-0 or even 3-1 in that stretch, and you're comparing Griffin and the Bears to Vince Young and Texas from 2005. Fold, and the comparisons lean more to Seneca Wallace and Iowa State from 2002.
Both Young and Wallace were terrific players who had similar capabilities as Griffin, and both had their teams in the national championship hunt early. But Young thrived in Big 12 play that season and won a title in the Rose Bowl. Wallace and the Cyclones wilted, and lost in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise.
Baylor's emergence as a national power comes during a fascinating period in Big 12 history, as all the big boys in the league seemed to be looking for greener pastures earlier this month.
Texas A&M was officially introduced to the SEC this week, and will make the move in 2012. The remainder of the conference is intact, but far from stable. Realignment issues and talk of super-conferences present a seismic shift in college football that leave Baylor with an uncertain future.
All the program can really do is win, now.
This has all the makings to be a remarkable run for Griffin, who was born in Japan to military parents and became another product of a Texas prep football factory at Copperas Cove High School, where he graduated seventh in his class.
Baylor is running one of the more unique Heisman campaigns in the country, promoting RG3 as a brand of a student-ambassador-athlete. Sure, administrators want voters to know that coaches across the land liken his gifts to those of Tim Tebow and Michael Vick.
But the university also wants the world to know that they have a scholar running the most electrifying offense in the country, an eloquent 21-year-old who graduated with a degree in political science in three years and has ambitions of going to law school next. Baylor can only hope it doesn't lose him to the NFL first.
For now, Baylor is in the national championship picture heading into October. Are you serious? What�s going on in the world?
Robert Griffin III will tell you. This has been a season of change in Waco alright, where the football has been anything but normal.