Howard Griffith was a self-made man. Now a football analyst for the Big Ten Network after earning two Super Bowl rings, Griffith paid his own way to the University of Illinois as an ineligible walkon. He gained eligibility and earned a scholarship with his outstanding play. But no one expected what happened twenty years ago when Southern Illinois invaded Memorial Stadium.
The Fighting Illini were assuming an easy victory and took the Salukis lightly. But after a series of mistakes and inspired play by SIU, the Illini found themselves down 21-7 early in the game. That is when the Illini ground game took over. Needing scores to counter another possible SIU rally, Griffith became a one-game legend.
Does he believe his record will be broken?
"I think the circumstances that day, had we not been down I wouldn't' have come anywhere close to it. We weren't playing well, and it kept us in the game. So I think it will be a tough record to get because if you get a 21-0 lead most of your starters won't be in the game in the second half."
Unfortunately, Griffith played at a time when most Illini games were not televised. As a result, only those in the stands that day saw the game. So Griffith's record remains somewhat unknown to the general populace.
"How many people really have seen that game? Not a lot. You can look on the internet and you won't see everything. Unless you were here you really don't have an appreciation for what took place that day.
"And I said that night, I'll have more appreciation the further you move away from this. Is it a part of me? Yes. We joke about it a lot. Guys say, ‘Eight touchdowns? Who were you guys playing against?' But it's hard to get 8 touchdowns through the air so how did you do it?"
Griffith enjoyed one special benefit from his exploits. When the Illini traveled to Tampa, Florida, for the Hall of Fame Bowl that December, Coach John Mackovic and he visited a true Illinois legend shortly before his passing.
"It gave me the opportunity to meet one of the greatest f not the greatest college football players of all time. If not for that game, I would have never gotten the opportunity to meet Red Grange.
"That's what I cherish the most, a chance to meet the best of the best. A guy who not only changed college football but changed the way professional football was viewed. It was outstanding."
The BTN plays a series of "Greatest Games" on its network, but no one will find the entire Illinois vs. SIU game from 1990.
"The Big Ten can't get the footage of that game. They have it here (at Illinois). I've seen a copy. But it's coaches film.
"We were talking last week, and some guys at the Big Ten Network were saying, ‘We need to get the game.' And I said, ‘You'll never get the game.' They thought, ‘We can get any game we want.'
"So I told them, ‘You'll have to call Kent Brown (UI SID), and he'll tell you where it is.' Sure enough they're trying to find it and nobody has the game. I said, ‘Do you want to listen to me now?' Sure enough they call Kent and they found it."
The starting tailback at Illinois now is Mikel Leshoure, who has two consecutive 100 yard games on the young season. What does Griffith think of his ability?
"I think Leshoure is an outstanding back. I think he has the potential to be a really special back. What the offense has to do is feed the ball to him. Once he becomes comfortable and what the identity of this offense will be emerges, I think he'll be outstanding. He has a chance to play on Sundays."
And what about his Alma Mater? Griffith and fellow analysts Dave Revsine and Gerry DiNardo study all Big Ten teams and are able to make comparisons.
"It's a young team. Obviously with two new coordinators there are a lot of things that have to gel. You can't really get ready for it in spring ball, and you can't get ready for it in summer camp.
"You have to play games so the coaches know what to expect from each player and what the players can expect from the coaches. I think it's a work in progress, but they're going to be fine because I think they're heading in the right direction."
Griffith is happy to see Nebraska added to the conference. He was asked what the Cornhuskers bring to the Big 10.
"Are you kidding me? A lot of wins, a lot of championships. It gives more respectability and credibility to this conference. When you talk about Michigan, Ohio State or Nebraska, I think they immediately come in and contend for the title. And it's not just about football. There's a lot of other sports where they'll bring something."
The former Illini star was asked about the biggest change in football since he played college ball.
"I think the way recruiting happens. Now you have new medias, the internet, text messages. It's just different avenues. But at the end of the day the face to face still has to take place.
"The players on the field are bigger, stronger, faster. That's just one of the byproducts of the evolution of the game. But at the core it's still about blocking, tackling and running."