That this all happened at a religious institution made the episode only more chilling; Bliss, too, had made his faith a central part of his image. "It was embarrassing, horrifying really," says former Bears football coach Grant Teaff, whose two Southwestern Conference titles stood alone as the program's high-water mark and whose wife, Donell, then sat on the school's board of regents. "You look back on it and say, How could it be? Yet it was."
One year after the launch of Baylor 2012 the university had indeed made itself a national name: can't win, can't live honorably—and can't even live dishonorably without getting caught.
"You had to think, So what price are we paying for success?" Lyon says. "The only reason you're doing all this is to show that being Christian means you don't have to sell your soul to succeed. And you just sold your soul. It's all over, isn't it?"
In the game's first minutes, one section of seats in the Ferrell Center remains glaringly empty, reserved for the 18 football recruits and their families still being wooed in an arena conference room. Not 24 hours before, with national signing day less than two weeks away, football coach Art Briles sat in his office as close as possible to a table holding Griffin's Heisman Trophy. He reached out and thumped a finger on the base of the statue: "It's phenomenal, the difference it's made in our recruiting world."
An assistant led in two high school seniors, a linebacker and a tight end. Briles shook their hands and asked about their families, but they were looking past him. He stepped back. "There it is," Briles said. "The real one, too: That's Robert's." The two boys made a sound somewhere between a gasp and a moan. The tight end moved first, reached out but only tapped the Heisman lightly, as if it were some kind of holy relic. But the linebacker stalked over and grabbed a bronze arm and leg, lifting the 25-pound trophy just enough to feel its heft.
"The Alamo Bowl trophy's over there," Briles said, pointing across the room to the winning hardware from the Bears' wild 67--56 win over Washington on Dec. 29. "That's 88 pounds." The two players looked over politely but stayed right where they were.
Griffin, you see, is a ghost of the first kind, one of those figures whose name will be celebrated and sold for decades. His impact on recruiting—on Feb. 1, Briles would reel in one of the best classes in school history, the centerpiece of which is four-star defensive tackle Javonte Magee of San Antonio—is easy to see. But you need to hear the voices. Already, when they talk about Robert (not "RG3") in Waco, there's more to it than just the usual pride in a once-a-generation talent. You hear this more from the older fans, who remember the five decades without a conference title, the ones who'll relive forever the horror of coach Kevin Steele's 1999 decision—while sitting on an awful UNLV team's eight-yard line with a three-point lead and less than 20 seconds to play—to run the ball.
"Everyone's waiting for him to take a knee," says chemistry professor Kevin Pinney. "Then you see them running a play, and the ball fumbled at the goal line. Then you see a UNLV player run 100 yards for a touchdown...."
If only because Griffin allowed them to change the subject, Baylor fans overflow with, well, gratitude. That he led the 2011 Bears to a pinch-me season that included, for only the second time in Baylor football's 110 seasons, 10 victories—including wins over Texas and, for the first time, Oklahoma—is no small thing. But the junior quarterback did so while studying Latin, earning a 3.67 GPA and completing his bachelor's degree in political science in three years, then working on a master's degree in communications that he'll finish this summer.
Griffin showed that Baylor could win and remain true to its mission; that its quarterback could say, "God obviously has a special place in his heart for this university" without the world laughing in his face; that it could recover a bit of the soul it lost a decade ago. "He's just one in a million," says Waco mayor Jim Bush.