UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: And now, the moment we've been waiting for. It is my pleasure to announce that the 2011 winner of the Heisman Trophy is Robert Griffin III, RG3.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
GUY RAZ, HOST:
Robert Griffin III won college football's highest award last night at a ceremony in New York. RG3, as he's known, is the first player from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, to win the Heisman. Griffin is a quarterback who has single-handedly turned around a program that, for the past decade, was largely written off. He's led the team to its best record since 1986, and he's well on his way to setting an NCAA record for passing efficiency.
But more importantly, RG3 is on the dean's list at Baylor and says after football, he plans to go to law school. Dave Zirin is the sports editor for The Nation magazine, and he's here with me now to talk more about this. Dave, hi.
DAVE ZIRIN: Hey. Great to be here. Thank you.
RAZ: Interesting background.
ZIRIN: Very interesting background. Robert Griffin III was born in Japan, both of his parents Army sergeants. Lived in Washington State, New Orleans and finally in Central Texas, what's sometimes referred to as a military brat. And as he traveled, he developed a set of intellectual and athletic skills that truly make him unique, not just in the landscape of college football but in the landscape of student athletics nationally.
RAZ: One interesting thing about him is he is a junior but he already has his degree from Baylor. He got his degree.
RAZ: He's been on the dean's list. Explain that.
ZIRIN: Yeah, sure. First of all, he started taking classes at Baylor his senior year of high school.
ZIRIN: So that was one thing. And second thing is he was red-shirted as a sophomore after he tore three ligaments in his knee. Red-shirted means he retained a year of eligibility while not playing for the team. Which means if he wants to, he can play a fifth year. But all that time, he's still taking classes, and he took advantage of that. I mean, he's not just graduating on the dean's list. He's graduating with a 3.67 GPA...
ZIRIN: ...in political science and is already pursuing his master's in communications.
RAZ: Okay. Now, he's graduated. He has his degree, but he is eligible to play another year at Baylor. What are the chances that he's going to play?
ZIRIN: I would honestly say zero. First of all, this is going to be a historic NFL draft where you have a lot of teams bunched near the top who need quarterbacks. There are a lot of NFL teams that are taking a close look at him. The one deficit, there's concern about his size, there's concern about that knee injury.
You want a big durable quarterback at the NFL level but his skill set is going to prove so enticing that expect an NFL team to draft him in the top 10 this spring.
RAZ: It's been a little bit of hit or miss. Tim Tebow, of course, is a great example of a former Heisman winner. He's had success with the Broncos...
ZIRIN: Of a kind. Yes.
RAZ: ...but not widely regarded as a great NFL quarterback. Can Griffin make it in the NFL?
ZIRIN: Yes. Because unlike Tim Tebow, there is no question that Robert Griffin can throw the football.
ZIRIN: He has got a quick, short release. He stands in the pocket. He can also move around a little bit yet isn't what's referred to sometimes derisively as a running quarterback. Then there's the issue of smarts. I mean, you can't overstate how much that's important to NFL general managers when they are judging whether or not someone can master the quarterback position. And his smarts are just regarded as something that comes along once a decade, a Peyton Manning. Like the sort of person who has a computer for a brain when they walk out onto the field. So this is a serious person. And you know what? He could not have come too soon for the NCAA.
RAZ: Yes. It's been a really rotten year. This is...
ZIRIN: You can't imagine a worse year. I mean, this was the year where the NCAA might've even have collapsed under the weight of corruption. I mean, we're talking about the biggest schools in the land: Ohio State, Miami, USC, now the horribleness that's happening at Penn State and even in Syracuse. It's been a PR nightmare for college athletics.
And to have someone like Griffin, like a nice guy who does it the right way who doesn't come across like an athlete student but a student athlete, I mean, it couldn't be a bigger shot in the arm for college athletics.
RAZ: That's Dave Zirin. He's sports editor at The Nation talking about Robert Griffin III. He won the Heisman Trophy last night at the ceremony in Manhattan. Dave Zirin, thanks.
ZIRIN: My privilege. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.