Maureen Dowd: Don't call him Emma, but RG III could be an Austen character

By MAUREEN DOWDNovember 27, 2013 

WASHINGTON - I dreamed of Peyton Manning.

In my dream, I was trying to shield him from the bitter wind in Foxborough. But he still looked like a frozen block of ice, with a red nose and watery eyes.

Yet it was so much better than my usual nightmares about President Ted Cruz that I wondered why I hadn't started watching football a long time ago.

When my sports-crazy family would drone on about football at holidays, I would sometimes slip into a bedroom to take a break with Jane Austen.

I had no interest in hearing about sulky brutes cracking heads. When we were children, my brother christened my kittens with the names of Redskins linebackers and slammed their little heads together - until I caught him. I was worried about concussions long before it became a cause celebre. Kitty-cussions.

Re-reading Austen, I could get lost in a fascinating honeycomb of relationships. I could delve into a rigid male-dominated hierarchical society with pompous wealthy overlords and opportunistic strivers and alluring young protagonists faltering with immature misjudgments and public opprobrium.

Then the Redskins drafted Robert Griffin III, with his gladiator glamour, and I was suddenly a fan, getting irate when my niece's birthday party was scheduled during the Redskins-Cowboys game.

And funnily enough, I was soon getting lost in a fascinating honeycomb of relationships. I was delving into a rigid male-dominated hierarchical society with pompous wealthy overlords and opportunistic strivers and alluring young protagonists faltering with immature misjudgments and public opprobrium.

Austen, the master of tangled sibling dramas, would have appreciated the face-off in September between quarterbacks Peyton and little brother Eli, as their father watched and Peyton wore the 18 jersey in honor of his father and older brother.

Austen would have been amused at last year's Super Bowl between the coaching Harbaugh brothers, especially the moment when John Harbaugh, identifying himself only as "John from Baltimore," phoned into a news conference with his parents to ask, "Is it true that both of you like Jim better than John?"

The 19th-century author of "Emma," the best makeover story ever, would have marveled at the macho makeover saga in Miami with the thuggish Richie Incognito trying to harden the brainy, viola-playing, Stanford-educated Jonathan Martin - the "bully" and the "baby," as Mike Ditka curtly called them.

The 22-year-old RGIII swept into town like Emma Woodhouse, "handsome, clever and rich," as Austen wrote of her 20-year-old title character, but spoiled by "the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself."

Like Emma and Elizabeth Bennet, RGIII has gone through humbling experiences. His humiliations on the field this season alternated jarringly on TV with his commercials for Subway, concocted when the Heisman winner from Baylor was still flying high and grinning cockily.

He went from being cheered as a magical quarterback and magnetic leader to being belittled as a college-level player and blame-shifter. The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins upbraided RGIII, once hailed as "Cool Hand Luke," for acting like "an unteachable know-it-all." Wide receiver Santana Moss suggested that RGIII, and other teammates, have to not blame others, "have to, at some point, stand up and say 'me' or 'I.' "

When RGIII kept getting sacked and knocked down Monday playing the San Francisco 49ers, he was left on the ground alone as his linemen walked away without helping him up, as they did last year. The poor guy even got painfully kicked in the groin, or the "wedding tackle" -- as it was called on the Mike & Mike show -- causing the ref to snicker and a fan to tweet, "Well there goes RG4."

Afterward, Ahmad Brooks, a 49ers linebacker, said that "everybody can see" that RGIII has "the heart of a warrior" but should not be playing, given his tender knee in the bulky brace.

RG3-and-8, as some began calling him mockingly, could not stop miming his disgust at a nonexistent offensive line, a cold father-and-son coaching team who are not sympatico with their star, and the cacophony of critics.

After the game, the quarterback denied an NFL Network report that he did not want the team to review films of his bad plays. "People are trying to character-assassinate me, and it's unfortunate," a dejected RGIII said, echoing Mike Shanahan. On ESPN, Herm Edwards, a former Kansas City Chiefs coach, talked about RGIII's eroded trust in his coaches using an expression that would fit right into an Austen novel: "There's a stormy romance, to say the least."

Like every compelling and high-spirited Austen heroine, the Redskins' erstwhile hero has some growing up to do. He has to go through the fire, dig deep and learn some lessons about character.

As Anna Quindlen once observed, Austen's novels are about the search for self, and "this search is as surely undertaken in the drawing room making small talk as in the pursuit of a great white whale or the public punishment of adultery." When Elizabeth Bennet mulls her mistakes - the blindness caused by her vanity and the ensuing "just" humiliations -- she realizes that these follies have allowed her to finally know herself.

And that search can be undertaken in the locker room as well as in the drawing room.

Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.

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