LANDOVER, Md. – They are never going to be very close, even if their names are glued together by a draft neither Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III could control. Mostly they exist as football frenemies, cordial around each other but forever wary of what the other represents.
It's funny the way they dance around each other, knowing they must give the proper impression of a friendship while enduring constant comparisons. On Saturday, when they met for the first time on an NFL field, they shook hands, wished each other well and moved on toward seasons certain in which each will be compared on an ever-changing bar graph of public opinion weighing which will have the better football life. They have little chance of being good friends – circumstances prevent that. And they probably shouldn't. A draft order need not make pen pals.
When Griffin was asked last week if he had talked to Luck about the looming showdown on Saturday, he shrugged.
"We're not holding conversations about this defense or that defense, but we are texing back and forth," he said. "Since we have been drafted we haven't talked very much but that's because we've both been busy."
When Luck was asked on Saturday night what he had to say to Griffin when the two stood on the field, he looked bored with the question.
"Nothing earth-shattering," he said.
Of course it was Griffin who reminded people in the days before the draft that he could have gone to Stanford and played with Luck. He said he liked the campus and was attracted to the law school there. He said Jim Harbaugh, who was coaching Stanford then, liked him a lot and wanted he and Luck to play quarterback together. He said he didn't want that. He wanted to be his own man. He knew they could not play together because there was too much ambition for both of them to be in the same offense.
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"I'm not saying who would have left because there's no telling who would have left," Griffin told Yahoo! Sports in April. "I'm glad I trusted myself and decided not to go down that path and be stubborn."
Perhaps this is the best Luck and Griffin can hope to be, players who made a mild effort to get along but who will never embrace or accept the rivalry that has been set up for them. They are doomed to stumble awkwardly around the presence of the other while at the same time trying to establish a legacy of their own.
No one could have expected Saturday's preseason game to give any clarity as to who will be the better NFL quarterback. It was an exhibition in which Luck and Griffin played barely more than a half each. The offenses were simple, the defenses bland. The best thing to be said about the first meeting between the two is that neither got hurt.
They each had moments. Griffin led two touchdown drives and threw several hard, accurate passes, completing 11 of 17 for 75 yards and a score. He needed to do this after a struggle last weekend against the Chicago Bears. That night he had a ball stripped from behind, ducked out of the pocket too soon and looked uncomfortable.
Luck had the best throw of the two, however, on a Saturday in which he finished 14-of-23 for 150 yards. It came in the second quarter when he ducked a rushing Redskin and fired a rocket pass more than 30 yards to T.Y. Hilton in the corner of the end zone for a score. The throw was so perfect it silenced the FedEx Field crowd.
Griffin said he saw Luck's pass and started to give it the proper praise but then went into a description of how safety Madieu Williams, the player beaten on the play, came to him on the sideline and said he wished he hadn't allowed the score: as if the throw itself was irrelevant.
"Madieu said he didn't think it will happen again."
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Was it a dig? A shot at Luck? Maybe it was nothing. But it almost seemed like a small bite, a chance to inch ahead in the Luck-Griffin narrative. It was as if he was saying, "Hey, that was a nice pass but it wasn't so good that our guy couldn't have stopped it."
It's unfair, of course, for all of us to make the daily comparison. But it's a natural result of the situation in which the two have been placed. And so they will have to awkwardly navigate around each other, making the basic effort to be friends while knowing they are eternal rivals.
On Saturday, after their great, meaningless first matchup, they walked through opposite parts of the FedEx Field basement – Griffin in a golf shirt and jeans, Luck in a rumpled button-up shirt and khakis. Just two men happy to get away from a place that will haunt them for decades, hoping this could be about something other than the two of them.
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