RG3 leaves Baylor a place changed forever

Wednesday was a day of reflection for Robert Griffin III, a natural reaction for anyone who has spent four years in one place and grown as much in that time as Griffin has.

He looked back far enough on Wednesday -- when he announced his decision to enter the NFL draft -- to see a Baylor that is hardly recognizable today.

"I remember walking onto the field at Floyd Casey Stadium and getting a standing ovation," Griffin said.

Oh, if they only knew what was to come. He didn't take long to make his first highlight reel with a juke that's still memorable almost four years later. From start to finish, Griffin looked the part of a special player.

The Bears lost to Wake Forest by four touchdowns the night Griffin got his first action in relief of Kirby Freeman.

Special, sure. But a Heisman winner? At Baylor? There's no understating how impossible that sounded even as recently as the middle of the 2011 season, when the Bears stood at 4-3 before ripping off a six-game winning streak to earn the third 10-win season in school history and first since 1980.

Baylor found modest success in the Southwest Conference, but the Big 12 had treated the Bears unkindly. In its first 15 seasons in the league, Baylor didn't earn a winning season. It went 5-7 just once.

The first winning season and bowl berth came first, back in 2010. After the confetti finished falling at the Alamodome in 2011, Griffin broke down and cried.

"My gut was telling me it was time to go," he said.

It is, but Griffin ensured Baylor would be a changed place forever.

The 10 wins and the Heisman are now. But what about the future?

"Like I told the team, the climb’s not over. We want to do more things," Griffin said. "A Big 12 title is part of that."

Impossible? Uh, I'd be careful saying anything's impossible at Baylor these days. Under Art Briles, who will begin his fifth season in Waco in 2012, Baylor's established plenty of recruiting momentum. Perhaps as soon as 2014, the Bears could be playing in an on-campus stadium as picturesque as any in the Big 12.

Would any of that be possible without Griffin?

The answer's obvious. If (when?) that stadium's built, would anyone object to naming it Griffin-Briles Stadium? You won't hear any argument against that in this space.

They sat side by side on Wednesday, sharing laughs and swearing that neither broke down when Griffin told Briles on Tuesday he was leaving Baylor for the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining.

"Not on the outside," Briles said.

Later, the light-hearted coach tried to put the day in perspective after noting that Griffin was "ready."

"It’s a day of celebration. I’m excited. I’m happy. I’m happy for Robert," he said, before adding, "Are y’all buyin' that? I’m just wondering. I’m getting better, I guess."

It may seem hollow in the moment -- 10 wins will be difficult to duplicate in 2012 -- but this day can be reserved for celebration. It's a chance to look back and see how much that campus has changed since a coach with decades of experience coaching in the state of Texas brought with him a kid from nearby Copperas Cove who won a Big 12 track title in hurdles just a month or so after he stepped on campus.

Griffin's career met its end four years later. He made such an impact, though, it may only be the beginning for Baylor.