Robert Griffin III hasn't played a down yet as a professional, but he's already making NFL history.
During rookie training camp with the Redskins, the nameplate on the back of Griffin's practice jersey has read, "Griffin III," and the ’Skins have confirmed to Uni Watch that he will wear the Roman numeral on his game jersey as well. This is due to a new NFL rule change that allows generational titles to be included on players' nameplates.
Near as Uni Watch can figure, this will mark the NFL's first instance of RNOB (that's short for "Roman numeral on back"; you can learn more about this and other uni-specific terms in the Uni Watch Glossary). In fact, as far as Uni Watch can tell, this will be the first case of RNOB in any of the Big Four professional leagues -- NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL. Yes, several college football and basketball players, including Griffin himself, have worn RNOB at the NCAA level, but never in the pros. So Griffin is breaking some serious new ground here.
But does that Roman numeral really belong on his jersey? NFL jerseys are supposed to have the player's last name, and Griffin's last name is Griffin -- not Griffin the Third. When the Redskins run a pass play, are the broadcasters going to say, "Griffin the Third goes back to pass," or "Griffin Three steps up in the pocket"? Of course not. They're going to refer to him simply as Griffin. For that matter, should articles about Griffin (including this one) refer to him as Griffin III instead of Griffin? Uni Watch doesn’t think so.
So why is the Roman numeral on his jersey? Presumably because it's part of Griffin's personal brand. And that's not the only kind of branding at work here, because the Roman numeral III can also be viewed as three stripes -- which happens to be the visual signature of adidas, which signed Griffin to a big endorsement contract back in February. In fact, Uni Watch suspects Griffin chose adidas over Nike specifically in large part because of the potential marketing synergies between the Roman numeral and the stripes. He's the perfect foil for the trefoil. Think that sounds far-fetched? Consider this: Everyone else refers to Griffin as RG3, but adidas commercials refer to him as rgIII. Here, see for yourself.
Speaking of Griffin's nickname, don't you think the Redskins would put "RG3" on the back of his jersey if they thought they could get away with it? That would be a nickNOB -- short for "nickname on back." Unlike RNOBs, nickNOBs have come up fairly regularly in pro sports over the past 45 years or so (thanks in large part to former A's owner Charles Finley and former Braves owner Ted Turner, both of whom encouraged the practice). Here's a selective list of nickNOBs during that time:
While that list is extensive, it isn't exhaustive. If you know of others, or if you have photos to help fill in the visual record, you know what to do.
Okay, before we wrap this up, a few final notes:
• Acie Law IV has never worn RNOB, but he came close during his time with the Hawks, cleverly using his uniform number to stand in for the Roman numeral.
• Adam "Pacman" Jones has never worn nickNOB, but he managed to wear his nickname's initial when he was with the Titans.
One thing's for certain: Robert Griffin III won't be wearing an "RG3" on his jersey this season, because NFL rules prohibit players from wearing nicknames. At least for now.
Like father, like son
Robert Griffin III isn't the only Redskin who'll have an unusual name on the back of his jersey this season. The same rule change that's allowing Griffin to wear a Roman numeral is also allowing players to wear JrOB -- that's "Jr." on back. That's good news for 'Skins running back Roy Helu Jr., who had worn "Helu Jr." on his jersey in college but was forced to go with "Helu" during his rookie season in Washington. He's adding the "Jr." this season.
JrOBs are like RNOBs: They've been worn on the college level but never in any of the major pro leagues. In fact, there have been several instances when JrOBs would have been quite appropriate on the baseball diamond, but they weren't used:
• Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr. were teammates on the Mariners in 1990 and '91, but they both just wore "Griffey," and Junior never wore "Jr." during his MLB career. (Oddly, he did wear JrOB on his World Baseball Classic BP jersey a few years back, but not on his game jersey.)
• When Cal Ripken Jr. and Sr. were both suiting up for the Orioles, they both just wore "Ripken."
• Tim Raines Jr. and Sr. were teammates in Baltimore for four games at the end of the 2001 season, but they both just wore "Raines" (sorry, no photo, but you can trust Uni Watch on this one).
• Sandy Alomar Jr. played for the Padres in 1989 while Sandy Alomar Sr. coached third base. Just to make things more complicated, Roberto Alomar played on that team too, which explains why Sandy Jr. wore his first initial -- but no JrOB.
Paul Lukas is not the son of the former Hollywood actor Paul Lukas, so he's never worn JrOB. If you liked this column, you'll probably like his daily Uni Watch web site, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, be added to his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.