WACO (AP) – Baylor president Ken Starr proudly quotes Robert Griffin III.
Considering the uncertain athletic future Baylor faced each of the past two summers during speculation of potential super conferences and the Big 12 teetering on the brink of collapse, Starr may find no better way to express the impact of Griffin’s Heisman Trophy in helping boost and change the perception of the private school in central Texas.
“It’s unbelievably believable for the university,” said Starr, the former independent prosecutor and orator borrowing a phrase from Griffin’s memorable Heisman acceptance speech in New York.
The exciting dual-threat quarterback created a frenzy that led to people paying several hundreds of dollars to get a pair of Superman socks like the ones RG3 wore at the Heisman ceremony Dec. 10.
There was an appearance on David Letterman’s late night show. Griffin gets asked for an autograph or to strike the pose for a picture everywhere he goes, even when he was in Times Square.
Yes, all for the quarterback of Baylor, which had never even had a winning season as a Big 12 team before Griffin got there.
“Short term, there’s a tremendous amount of brand energy nationally without question,” coach Art Briles said. “Recruiting, without question. We’re getting phone calls every day that we weren’t getting the last three years.”
There was an almost-immediate advertising campaign by Baylor, with Internet ads and billboards featuring Griffin with the phrase, “Building leaders … and Heisman Trophy winners.” The billboards were placed in high-traffic areas, including one not far from the University of Texas campus in Austin.
“Long term, they give one (Heisman) away a year. … The last 50 years, there’s been 49 winners. Archie Griffin won it twice,” Briles said. “People can name Heisman Trophy winners, casual fans. So long term, it ain’t going anywhere. It’s Robert’s. It’s Baylor’s.”
Griffin’s first game as the Heisman Trophy winner is Thursday in the sold-out Alamo Bowl, where the 15th-ranked Bears (9-3) play Washington less than three hours from their Waco campus.
Soon, visitors entering the lobby of Baylor’s athletic building could be greeted by the school’s first Heisman Trophy. The most prominent display so far has been the Ray Guy Award won twice by Daniel Sepulveda that is given to the nation’s best punter.
One of the first issues Starr addressed publicly after taking over the school’s presidency in June 2010 was the future of Baylor athletics.
Before that, he was Pepperdine University’s law school dean, but is best known for his investigation of the Clinton White House and the Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to Clinton’s impeachment
There was speculation again earlier this year about major shifts with traditional football powers, this time with talk of possible legal action to keep the Big 12 together and more worries about the Bears being left out of the mix.
And there was the tragedy and scandal in the men’s basketball program that rocked the world’s largest Baptist university in the summer of 2003, when Patrick Dennehy was murdered by a teammate and former coach Dave Bliss was then caught in a tangle of lies and financial misdeeds that led to crippling NCAA penalties for new coach Scott Drew.
Things have changed drastically for Baylor.
“It’s not just a new chapter, but there’s a brand new book that’s being written,” Starr said. “Baylor will now play an increasingly visible part in the Big 12 by virtue of the improvement of these athletic programs. … It’s an exciting time.”
Not only does Baylor have the best player in college football, and preliminary plans for a new campus stadium on the banks of the Brazos River, it boasts two undefeated basketball teams.
Coach Kim Mulkey’s top-ranked Lady Bears (12-0) led by junior phenom Brittney Griner have already defeated three top-10 teams this season, including perennial power Connecticut before a record crowd at home this month. They were national champions in 2005 and last year made it to a regional final before losing to Texas A&M, the eventual national champ they had already beaten three times.
The No. 6 men’s team with Big 12 preseason player of the year Perry Jones III, considered a potential NBA lottery pick before returning for his sophomore season, has already matched its best start ever with 12 consecutive wins. The Bears made it to an NCAA regional final only two seasons ago.
And, despite the upcoming defections of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC, the Big 12 has steadied itself with equal revenue sharing, television rights and TCU and West Virginia as incoming replacements.
“You can take all those sound bites from people talking bad about us, and not that you can rub it in, but you can just laugh at it now, because we rose up above that,” Griffin said. “We made history, and it’s fun to make history and be able to see it while you’re in it.”
Griffin, an aspiring lawyer who arrived at Baylor nearly four years ago as a 17-year-old kid after graduating high school early near the top of his class, excelled while leading the Bears into the national spotlight.
There is still the big question on whether Griffin will return for a chance to become only the second multiple Heisman winner.
Robert Griffin, a fourth-year junior unrelated to the two-time Heisman winner and already holding 46 school records, still has another season of eligibility after the Alamo Bowl. But his NFL draft stock has risen dramatically.
RG3 is the nation’s most efficient passer, throwing for 3,998 yards with a Big 12-leading 36 touchdowns (averaging more than 35 yards each) and only six interceptions. He also ran for 644 yards and nine more scores.
Baylor has a five-game winning streak, its longest in 20 years, and is trying to match the school record of 10 wins set during Mike Singletary’s senior season in 1980, a decade before Griffin was born in Japan to parents who are now both retired military.
“As a total brand, everybody always knew Baylor was a great academic university,” Briles said. “Now when you add top-ranked athletic teams to it, I mean what you’re sitting on is a can-do, everything university.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)