Shaquem Griffin walked up to his mother minutes after his latest game for the Seahawks, having taken another step in his extraordinary NFL career.
The remarkable rookie expected Mom to be beaming. Of course he did. They were in London. Her twin sons, including Seattle’s starting cornerback Shaquill, had just helped Seattle rout the Oakland Raiders before 85,000 roaring fans at famed Wembley Stadium. The game and trip were smashing successes. Even the twins’ arrival in London was news there. They were the latest, wow moments in the Griffins’ wowing, one-of-a-kind start in pro football.
But when Shaquem approached his mother under Wembley’s lower grandstand two Sundays ago, Tangie Griffin was the opposite of beaming.
“When I walked up my mom was crying,” Shaquem said Wednesday at his locker at Seahawks headquarters before practicing for this weekend’s game at Detroit.
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“I said, ‘Why are you crying?’”
His mom just handed him her phone. She said proudly, through her tears: “Here’s the video, of the little boy.”
She showed the Seahawks’ number 49, an inspiration to different-limbed people across the globe, this:
Right there, at the bottom of Wembley Stadium minutes after the Seahawks’ win in London Oct. 14, Griffin watched a video of Daniel Carrillo opening his cherished birthday present from his parents: a blue, Seahawks game jersey, number 49. Griffin’s jersey. Friends of the Carrillo family were at the game in London. They made a point during it to find Tangie in Wembley’s stands, to show her the video, to show her what her son meant to their friend.
Daniel is a grade-schooler and youth football player in Northern California. He has one hand because of amniotic band syndrome. That’s what bonds Daniel and Shaquem. Shaquem was born with amniotic band syndrome, too, one minute after Shaquill was born on July 20, 1995, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Shaquem had to have his left hand amputated because of the syndrome. Yet he went on to star at the University of Central Florida with his brother. This spring, the Seahawks made Shaquem the first one-handed player drafted into the modern NFL, while reuniting him with his twin.
Daniel cried with joy as he opened his Shaquem jersey for his birthday.
In that tunnel at Wembley Stadium in London, half a world away, Shaquem was also moved to tears by Daniel’s gift.
“I didn’t watch the whole thing,” Griffin told me of the video, “because I was getting emotional watching.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, man!’ So I sent him a video.”
He made it for Daniel on the Seahawks’ way out of London, before the team’s 10-hour flight home that night.
Griffin said he told Daniel his hope is “maybe we can get you out for a game, talk, hang out a little bit.”
They are targeting the Dec. 2 home game against San Francisco.
“We are working on it right now,” Griffin said Wednesday.
This was not a one-time thing for Griffin after a game.
In Seattle on a Thursday night in August, about a half hour after he started the Seahawks’’ final preseason game at linebacker, Shaquem came back out the tunnel from the locker room onto CenturyLink Field. He beamed at the sight of dozens of children from across the Pacific Northwest visiting him, specifically, as part of NubAbility Athletics Foundation, a non-profit organization for different-limbed athletes like himself. The kids were as over the moon at meeting their hero as he was at meeting them.
Griffin spent another half hour or so posing for pictures, signing autographs on Seahawks gear and onto limbs. He talked to and laughed with the kids, their mothers, fathers and friends.
He signed shirts, caps, arms. And he touched hearts. Again.
Griffin is humbled, and proud, that kids like Daniel, families such as the Carrillos, athletes such as those from NubAbility, see him as an inspiration and example. He knows he’s showing them goals and determination can conquer any supposed obstacle.
“It makes me feel good,” Griffin said told me Wednesday. “It makes me feel like I am doing something right. When you’ve got kids who are emotional and who are very passionate about what I am doing on the field and they are very passionate about what they are doing—and Daniel, he plays ball, too—it’s kind of like us colliding together as one.
“Because we are both living our dreams.
“When I get to see that, it’s very important.”
Griffin said he gets so many letters, Instagram messages and Twitter posts from so many around the world “I can’t keep count.”
“I try my best to interact with them as much as possible,” he said. “It’s so many, I can’t get to everybody. But I do my best to try to interact with as many of them as I can.”
“Very surprised,” he said, grinning. “They don’t expect me to respond or anything. Like, when I get tagged and stuff on Twitter and IG—’tag your favorite person and see if he comments’—I always comment.
‘They are always surprised at that.”
“It’s always good to interact with the fans, and to interact with anybody who is very impressed with what you are doing,” he said.
I asked Griffin if he expected this, to be in the NFL as a linebacker and Seahawks special-teams player while also an example and inspiration for different-limb athletes and people everywhere. People who aren’t even Seahawks fans, who may not know a football from a foot massager, are Shaquem Griffin fans. That’s because of what he is doing right now. Because of who he is, what he represents.
And because of how graciously and gracefully he’s doing it.
“When I first got drafted, I wasn’t expecting it, or I didn’t know how it was going to be,” he said. “It was me adjusting to it as I went on. It’s not hard. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just knowing that you’ve got to keep doing what you are doing.”
Griffin could not have expected what he’s got with the Seahawks in his first months in the league, either.
He started his first NFL game, at weakside linebacker with Pro Bowl veteran K.J. Wright sidelined by arthroscopic knee surgery since August. Shaquill and Shaquem became first twins to play as teammates in an NFL regular-season game in 90 years. The last twins teammates in the NFL were Earl and Myrl Goodwin, on offense with the 1928 Pottsville Maroons.
Griffin was so all over the place early in that first game, tying to do so much too quickly with his 4.38-second speed in the 40-yard dash, he was blowing his assignments all over the field in Denver Sept. 9. The Seahawks replaced him on running downs with backup middle linebacker Austin Calitro beginning in the second quarter.
The next five games, Shaquem didn’t play a snap at linebacker. The win in London over the Raiders was the first time since that opener Griffin played on defense. He entered at weakside linebacker in second quarter and played three snaps there.
This week Wright has returned. The veteran is set to make his season debut Sunday against the Lions at Griffin’s position.
By all accounts, including his coaches’ and his brother’s, Griffin hasn’t gotten down about going from first-game starting linebacker to reserve and special-teams player on multiple units.
Besides, he’s got too many thousands around the world supporting him to fall far.
“You can’t get besides yourself, and think that you are doing too much, or it’s not good enough,” he said. “You’ve just got to remain humble, and to keep focused on the job that’s there, that’s at hand.”