When you know your why.
Photo: Streeter Lecka (Getty Images)

Want to see something really sad? Look at what’s become of Robert Griffin III’s stable of trademarks:

Robert Griffin III’s dead trademarks via the USPTO database

The horror. The horror.

For anybody wanting to argue there are bigger tragedies: Robert Griffin III, the person, is still alive and even in possession of a NFL training camp invite. Much as he seems like a relic from a bygone era, he’s only 28 years old. But good god is RGIII The Brand ever dead and gone.

The end of what RGIII was, back when he looked like the future of football, was as fast and certain as anything I ever saw in sports. It was so sudden and so final, in fact, that it’s hard these days to even remember what a big deal he was, and how great he was when he was great. As that USPTO graphic shows, that’s a definite “was.”

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But he’s been in the news lately. First when the Baltimore Ravens signed him to a one-year deal worth a reported $1 million in early April, and again last week when the team took Lamar Jackson at the end of the NFL Draft’s first round. Most reports about the Jackson pick pointed out that Baltimore’s roster already featured another Heisman Trophy winner who did as much with his feet as his arm.

Griffin’s career effectively ended with a play late in the fourth quarter of a home playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks after his rookie season. Deep in his own territory, Griffin fumbled a snap and then rather than pick it up just stumbled and then just collapsed, untouched, on the shitty FedExField gridiron. He stayed there, unable to get the ball or even move, the same way Mike Tyson couldn’t so much as gather up his mouthpiece after Buster Douglas knocked him out. Also like Tyson, Griffin’s career would never be the same. He has suited up for some games in the years since—he quarterbacked the last Cleveland Browns win to date on the day before Christmas in 2016—but none that really mattered to anybody.

But ... hard as it is to remember, there really was a time when he was both great and a great big deal. RGIII was the best thing that ever happened to the Skins in the Dan Snyder Era, not even close. He was so great that he made people forget for a season what a bad guy the owner was (fresh reminder here), and also so great that people ignored what a clown RGIII himself was, too.

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Among Griffin’s most annoying traits during his pre-irrelevancy years was his compulsion to speak in slogans. He wanted to be everybody’s life coach, and so acted like every word he uttered was not only original and profound, but worthy of capitalization and appearing on a t-shirt—or, more annoying yet, on socks.

Griffin went on a trademarking binge that began before he had thrown his first NFL pass. Perhaps he caught this particular bug from, or was at least egged on by, his owner. Snyder had an obsession with owning things, up to and including cliches; he was a serial trademarker years before giving up three first-round picks to get Griffin in the 2012 draft. After Snyder launched a hostile takeover of the Six Flags board of directors, for example, the amusement chain filed paperwork with the federal government claiming ownership of “Daycation,” “Pay Like a Kid. Play Like a Kid” (as well as the equally brilliant “Play Like a Kid. Pay Like a Kid”) and “You Are Here.”

“You Are Here”?

Yup: “You Are Here”!!!!

Ultimately, Griffin filed at least 17 applications for trademarks. That roster included a few of Griffin’s brainchildren that had two separate filings with different commercial goals: “Unbelievably Believable,” for example, would be both found on “shirts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, pants, shorts, jerseys, athletic uniforms, socks; hats, caps; footwear” and used in “promoting the goods and services of others, promotional sponsorship of sports and athletic events and activities.”

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Seeing Griffin’s name in the news again got me thinking back to his gladiatorial efforts at building his brand, the relentlessness of which, from the very start, set him apart even more than his unique multi-tool style of quarterback play. So I went to the USPTO database and learned what I probably would have guessed. As a brand, he’s dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Every one of the phrases Griffin tried to register with the federal government through his personal corporation, Thr3escompany LLC, has been abandoned.

“Dream Big Live Bigger”? Lives no more. “Go Catch Your Dream”? Fell incomplete. “Unbelievably Believable”? Best believe it’s dead. “Work Hard Stay Humble”? Laid off. “No Pressure No Diamonds”? More like: No trademark. “Light You Up”? Gone dark. (Whoever advised him that he could call “Light You Up” his own should be sued for malpractice.) “Know Your Why”? Oh, god no! Say it ain’t so! Not “Know Your Why,” too? But yeah. Dead.

The only marks not yet dead, according to the USPTO, are Griffin’s name and logo he came up with for a shoe company. (Oh, god. Remember the hullaballoo about his logo?)

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Before the Ravens signed Griffin, I think the last time I even thought about him was when I was walking through the neighborhood Walmart around Christmas 2014 and saw his jerseys on a clearance rack. Less than two years earlier, he’d owned this town like no other rookie in D.C. sports history. The sight was jarring enough that I snapped a crappy smartphone photo:

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Photo: Dave McKenna

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And, for now, he’s in Baltimore, just up the road from where he enjoyed his greatest glories all those years ago—well, okay, only five years ago. There’s probably not room on the Baltimore roster for all the quarterbacks currently on it: Joe Flacco, Josh Woodrum, RGIII, and Jackson. Maybe the Ravens, always in the conversation of the smartest franchises in the league, plan to use RGIII as a cautionary tale for Jackson, a sort of role model in reverse for the first-round pick. “See what I did?” Griffin could say. “Don’t do that!”

But there’s no sign of that yet. As soon as Jackson was drafted, Griffin tweeted to his new teammate: “Let’s get to work!!!” The guy’s still speaking in slogans. As RGIII himself might have said back when he, as a football player and a brand, seemed to be flying so high, that’s unbelievably believable.