March 25, 2013
If I told you that Robert Griffin III surprised a senior elephant handler for Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus by immediately understanding the technique needed to complete a forward pass to a 9,000-pound pachyderm, connecting on his second attempt, and finishing with a 60 percent completion percentage to a receiver boasting only four legs and a trunk, you’d probably say “duh.”
But to the uninitiated, for whom RGIII’s automatic greatness at every life task is not yet assumed, Griffin still put on a show at the circus.
“I thought it would take him three or four times, but the professional quarterback showed me up pretty good,” Joey Frisco III, a third-generation elephant handler, told me this week. “I pointed out to him one time what to do, and [on his second try] he threw it up and she caught it. I was like really? Cmon…In between throws, when I was talking to him, it was like he had just missed a pass to one of his receivers — too high! too low! He was already saying in his head what he had to do next time….Usually it takes time for elephants to get used to how someone’s gonna throw, but an NFL superstar quarterback, he knew exactly what to do.”
Frisco grew up playing football around Peoria, Ill., nearly playing in college before he tore up his knee during a high school all-star game. And Kelly Ann — the Asian elephant with whom Griffin palled around on Sunday — has always been “a pretty sporty elephant,” according to the 29-year old handler. She dunks basketballs, kicks soccer balls and catches batons, so about a year ago, Frisco began working with her on catching footballs.
Until this week, Frisco was the only one to play football with the nearly 17-year old elephant. The Falcons fan often jokes with audiences that if the elephant is Julio Jones, he’s a scrubby, bench-warming QB. So when Griffin and his family went to the show at Verizon Center on Sunday, and stayed afterward to meet the performers and pose for publicity photos, it seemed like an appropriate time to introduce a second thrower.