RENTON, Wash. – The 2018 NFL Draft has a hero.
This man is a real hero. It has little to do with him being a great player. Shaquem Griffin is everything we love about sports. He is everything we love about overcoming obstacles in life.
It doesn’t matter what your team affiliation is. It doesn’t even matter if you care about football. Griffin is the feel-good story of the year, an outside linebacker with one hand and a giant heart.
His big moment came Saturday when the Seattle Seahawks made him a fifth-round draft choice. That in itself is not a big deal.
The fact that Griffin doesn’t have a left hand, became an NFL draft choice and now will play on the same defense with his twin brother, that’s a big deal.
“People have doubted me at every single level,’’ Shaquem said. “Every single time I proved them wrong. I’m going to keep proving people wrong.”
In case you’re wondering, this is no mercy pick or PR show. If anything, it was a surprise he didn’t get selected sooner.
Griffin was the best player on the only undefeated college team in 2017 – the Central Florida Knights. He also was the best player at the NFL Combine in February and he wasn’t even invited until media pressure forced the NFL to add him to the list.
“We’re going to let him use his speed and chase the football,’’ said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “He also is a great blitzer. And he’ll be a big factor on special teams.”
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said it was “nerve racking” waiting and hoping Griffin would still be there when they picked in Round 5.
Carroll was sold from the moment he first talked to Shaquem at the Combine.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more inspiring interview,’’ Carroll said. “He's an extraordinary young man. He has a message we’re all going to grow from.”
After dazzling scouts at the Combine, Griffin shot up many draft boards and was expected to be a second-day pick on Friday in the second or third round. He was invited to the draft show extravaganza at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas (Jerry World of the Cowboys).
That call didn’t come Friday, so Griffin waited in a hotel Saturday with his brother and the rest of family to see what would happen.
The fourth round went by and he still wasn’t picked. When the call finally came, Griffin had gone to the restroom. His brother, Shaquill, a starting cornerback for the Seahawks, saw on Shaquem’s cell phone the 425 area code of Seattle.
“I literally jumped over people and tackled him in the bathroom,’’ Shaquill said. “I’m really emotional right now. I don’t think I cried on my draft day, but I just couldn’t hold it (when his brother was drafted). Everything he’s been through and everything he’s accomplished, but it’s just the beginning.”
Shaquem had a congenital birth defect and his hand was amputated when he was 4. He was in so much pain before the amputation that he tried to cut it off himself.
The one constant, the one thing that helped him overcome his handicap is his brother, who always told Shaquem he could accomplish anything through hard work.
“I’m so proud of him to see where he’s gone and where he’s about to go,’’ Shaquill said. “To see the dream come true means the world to me and to him. We’re gonna shock the world.”
Shaquill was a third-round pick of the Seahawks last year and became an NFL starting cornerback in 2017. Shaquem had one more season in school as a redshirt senior.
“The only thing we knew was being around each other,’’ Shaquem said. “But we called each other every day last year and cheered each other. I’m so excited to get to play with him again. He knows what’s in me. It’s like I’m living a dream and magical stuff is happening. The chances of this happening were really low.”
After the call came from the Seahawks, Shaquem went back to AT&T Stadium. The crowd was waiting. Never in history has a fifth-round draft choice walked into a draft headquarters and received the ovation that came for Griffin.
Everyone stood and applauded. Everyone wanted to pat him on the back, take a selfie or give him a hug. Some people screamed his name. Others cried.
Griffin is more than a football player. He is the symbol of everything good about the human condition.
“It is a story about overcoming obstacles,’’ said Seattle coach Pete Carroll. “It is about never giving up. And it’s also about a connection of brothers that is all about love and heart.”