Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Heisman winner has New Orleans' roots

Heisman Trophy winner's tale started in New Orleans

John DeShazier, The Times-Picayune 
The celebration for the Heisman Trophy winner might have stretched long into the New Orleans night Saturday after Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III was announced as the 77th winner of the award, because the roots of Baylor's junior quarterback run directly to the Crescent City. His parents, Robert Jr. and Jacqueline, are natives who have many family members still living there.
robert_griffin_III2.jpgRobert Griffin III, of Baylor University, holds the Heisman Trophy award after being named the winner Saturday in New York.
"I grew up in the 9th Ward, the 3rd Ward and the 4th Ward," said Robert Jr., who graduated from John F. Kennedy High School. "I started out in the Desire housing project and was in the Iberville project when I left."
"I grew up around the City Park area," Jacqueline said, "and graduated from St. Mary's Academy."
Saturday, they watched the son they raised - along with two daughters - raise the most prestigious individual award in college football, besting a five-finalist field that included New Orleans native Tyrann Mathieu, a sophomore cornerback at LSU.
Robert III won the award by 280 points; Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck finished second, with 1,407 points.
"I've always aimed for the stars," Robert III said. The Heisman "wasn't on any checklist, but it wasn't something I thought I couldn't do.
"This is huge. We'll bring it back home (to Waco, Texas) and hopefully, inspire people. Football is king in Texas. If your football team in your backyard is doing well, it gives you a little more pride."
It can do that if the backyard is in another state, too. Especially if that backyard is filled with supporters.
Robert Jr. and Jacqueline Griffin left New Orleans a couple of decades ago, after joining the Army in hopes of providing a better life for their family.
"I like the Mardi Gras thing and all of the seasons that we have in New Orleans, but I wanted to see something different," the elder Robert Griffin said. "I wanted to see mountains, I wanted to see snow."
Saturday, the retired sergeant and his wife, who also retired as a sergeant, got to see something else that might have been considered a dream a few years ago. Robert III became the first Baylor player to win the Heisman, giving the Bears a level of acclaim they never before have had.
"It's been a long journey, but he believed in everything we were teaching him," Jacqueline said. "I knew God was going to do something great in his life. I just didn't know it was going to be this.
"He's a great example for our family, for Baylor."
And, by all accounts, he's a pretty good football player, too.
Griffin III won the award after completing 267 of 369 passes for 3,998 yards and 36 touchdowns, with six interceptions. He also rushed 161 times for 644 yards and nine touchdowns.
Additionally, he led Baylor to the program's first-ever victory over Oklahoma and to a win over Texas.
"For Robert, it's the pinnacle of individual awards," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "It's a huge, huge individual award that he very much deserves."
And in a nod to Robert Jr. and Jacqueline, Briles said, "We got a person that was polished when he came to us."
In fact, Griffin III smoothly handled the entire Heisman process, eloquently crediting teammates and coaches along the way, stressing how the honor was a team award, emphasizing how much the recognition would help Baylor.
And he effusively praised his parents, too.
"The things they sacrificed for me, my two sisters, they don't go unnoticed," he said.
Some of the results were noticed in New Orleans on Saturday. There, a proud family toasted one of its own.
"Tell them thanks, for all their love and support," Jacqueline said. "Tell them thanks for supporting us and for supporting how we were raising our kids."
John DeShazier can be reached at or 504.826.3410.
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