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How Archie Griffin defended his Heisman in 1975 with the nation watching

It's been done only once, and that's why Archie Griffin's second Heisman Trophy lives on in not just Buckeye lore but the history of college football. We take a look at his career and how he earned the famed trophy today, one day before this year's honor will be announced.

Ohio State has a unique athletic tradition among colleges in the United States, for many reasons.

One of those reasons is that the Buckeyes have rarely had to go far to find the men who would come to define that tradition.

Charles “Chic” Harley was born in Chicago but attended moved to Columbus at the age of 12 years old, attending East High School. He was a prep dynamo for the Tigers and then starred for the Buckeyes, helping establish OSU as a national power and leading the team to its first unbeaten record, its first Western Conference title and its first win over Michigan. His impact was so strong that Ohio Stadium had to constructed to hold the crowds he drew to Buckeye football, giving the massive edifice on the banks of the Olentangy River the moniker “The House that Harley Built.”

In the 1950s, an athlete from The Bottoms in Columbus snuck into Ohio Stadium to see Heisman winner Vic Janowicz. Two years later, he showed up, put on Scarlet and Gray and became a legend in his own right, and by 1955, Howard Cassady was a Heisman Trophy winner as well.

Then there’s the greatest golfer who ever lived, Jack Nicklaus, whose father had a drugstore on a corner abutting the Ohio State campus. Growing up in Upper Arlington, Nicklaus considered the family business, but he won a national championship at Ohio State and then won a record 18 majors on the way to being the greatest champion the game has ever known.

But no athlete from Columbus has starred in scarlet and gray quite like Archie Mason Griffin.

Griffin – who would become known simply as Archie to the Buckeye fanbase – starred at Columbus Eastmoor, scoring 29 touchdowns as a senior. He was one of a line of talented Griffin brothers, and he seriously considered leaving the state for college.

As he boarded a plane to Northwestern to check out the Wildcats, his father left him with a message.

“A lot of people told me I shouldn't come to Ohio State because of my size,” Griffin said in 2014. “I should go to other places where the guys were smaller. I was headed toward Northwestern actually and Woody (Hayes) recruited me and because of him and my parents really I decided to come to Ohio State. The reason I decided to come to Ohio State was I was taking my visit to Northwestern and my dad let me out of the car to go to the airport and one thing he said that stuck out in my mind was, 'We'd love to see you play.'

“That meant a lot to me because at the time I had a brother at Kent State playing and I had a brother at Louisville playing. My folks were trying to catch everybody's games, and I think my father was telling me, 'It'll be a whole lot easier on us if you play at Ohio State.' I caught that, and I'm glad I chose Ohio State.”

From game two – he fumbled in game one, of course – Buckeye fans and Hayes were glad that Griffin chose OSU. He broke the Buckeyes’ single-game rushing record in that second game vs. North Carolina on the way to an 867-yard season. He ran for 1,577 yards the next year, then 1,695 in 1974, good enough to win his first Heisman Trophy.

Griffin came back the next year and nearly hit the same number, rushing 262 times for 1,450 yards and four touchdowns (most of the scores went to his backfield running mate, the pulverizing Pete Johnson). With Johnson and Cornelius Greene joining Griffin in the backfield, the Buckeyes were a machine in 1975, spending most of the season in the No. 1 spot.

And with Griffin holding the nation’s attention, he was able to repeat as the first and to this day only two-time Heisman winner. There seemed to be little debate nationally, as Griffin earned 454 first-place votes, more than three times that of the second-place finisher, Cal running back Chuck Muncie.

Griffin found out he would repeat as he took a road trip to make a speech in Bellaire, Ohio.

“The Monday after the Michigan game, the Downtown Athletic Club, who were the sponsors of the Heisman, would call our sports information director and they told our sports information director – this was ’74 – that I needed to be in New York the next day and when I got there, there was going to be two or three others there as well and they were going to announce who was the Heisman Trophy winner,” Griffin said.

“I was all excited, got on that plane, went to New York, got to the Downtown Athletic Club – and I was the only one there. They had the luncheon and they announced me as the Heisman Trophy winner.

“Well, 1975 comes along and they couldn’t reach me because I was doing a speaking engagement in Bellaire, Ohio, on that Monday. And so the assistant sports information director, a guy by the name of Steve Snapp, told me as I’m going to Bellaire, Ohio, to stop and call him, so I had to stop at a service station, get on the phone and call him. We didn’t have cell phones back then, so I had to stop at a service station, put a couple of dimes in the telephone and call back.

"Well, Steve Snapp told me that I had won the Heisman, but they told him specifically to tell me that I couldn’t tell anybody because they couldn’t run that game on me that there were going to be two or three others there when I got there. They told me I couldn’t tell anybody. I didn’t keep my word – I told my mother and father and I told my girlfriend, but that was the difference, and I kind of liked it that way."

BSB now takes a look back at, game-by-game, how Archie Griffin won the Heisman Trophy in 1975.

Game 1: At Michigan State, Sept. 13

Before the season kicked off, Griffin professed to not be focusing on repeating as the winner of the nation’s most famous individual trophy.

“Oh, I’d like to go over 1,000 yards again,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “But I really don’t have that great overwhelming desire for another Heisman. If it comes, it comes. What I want to do is play on a national champion team. I’ve never been on a national champion, and that’s been my goal since high school.”

One year after Ohio State lost a tough and controversial game at Michigan State, Griffin helped make sure that wouldn’t happen again. Griffin served as the key to the Buckeyes’ offense in the team’s 21-0 win in East Lansing, rushing 29 times for 108 yards and losing a fumble. It was his 22nd consecutive regular-season game with 100 yards.

“It was rough in there,” Griffin said afterward.

On the other side of the ball, Craig Cassady, the grandson of Howard, intercepted Michigan State’s Charlie Baggett three times in his first career start. 

Game 2: Penn State, Sept. 20

Ohio State earned its first-ever win against Penn State, doing so by a 17-9 score in Ohio Stadium, and Griffin was a big reason why.

Though he was kept out of the end zone, Griffin helped the Buckeye offense churn its way to a dominating 322 yards on the ground. Griffin ran it 24 times for 128 yards – both team highs – and also caught a 23-yard pass.

A 35-yard run, his longest on the day, set up a Tom Klaban field goal that made it 10-0 in the first, and the pass caught on a third-and-11 play in the fourth quarter set up Johnson’s back-breaking TD with 4:47 to play.

“Griffin made an almost impossible catch on our last touchdown drive,” head coach Woody Hayes said of Griffin’s diving, one-handed grab. “He ran a dash route and read the defense perfectly. After two games, it is apparent that the opposition is making a real effort to stop Archie.”

Game 3: North Carolina, Sept. 27

The Buckeyes moved to 3-0 with a 32-7 win against North Carolina, and just like he did when he burst onto the scene in 1972, Griffin had a big game against the visiting Tar Heels.

Ohio State rolled up an impressive 403 net yards on the ground, with Griffin rushing 22 times for 157 yards. He didn’t find the end zone, though, as Johnson had all five Ohio State TDs on rushes of 2, 5, 1, 2 and 3 yards to set an OSU record with 30 points in one game.

He was at his best early in the second half. After North Carolina scored on its first possession after halftime to cut OSU’s lead to 12-7, Griffin had three rushes for 43 yards on the ensuing drive before Johnson finished it off with the final 9 yards.

“Offensively they have Griffin and everyone knows what a great back he is,” UNC coach Bill Dooley said. “But then, all of a sudden that big No. 33 (Johnson) comes at you with his strength and quickness.”

OSU’s 20th consecutive win set a school record, and Griffin became OSU’s all-time leader in total offense with 4,532 yards, passing Rex Kern (4,518). 

Game 4: At UCLA, Oct. 4

Ohio State’s defense gave up double digits in points for the first time in 1975, but Griffin and the Buckeyes’ offense had little trouble as OSU went on the road and posted a 41-20 win at No. 13 UCLA.

Griffin, Greene and Johnson combined for 62 carries, 335 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Griffin led the way, averaging 7.6 yards on his 21 carries to total 160 yards and also hauling in two passes for 44 yards.

OSU’s three-headed rushing attack kept the Bruins off-balance, and the returning Heisman winner burst over right guard for a 17-yard touchdown – his first of the year –  3:51 into the second half to give the Buckeyes a 35-7 lead. That was part of a 38-point run for the second-ranked Buckeyes (4-0) after the Bruins scored the opening TD in the Rose Bowl.

“We have a lot of weapons in our backfield, and we went into this game intending to use them all,” Hayes said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Archie was the finest player on the field tonight. I’m always amazed at his performance.

“And I’ll tell you this, as good a football player as he is, he’s an even better young man. Every team keys its defense to stopping him but no one can.”

After the game, UCLA head coach Dick Vermeil said of the Buckeyes, “They’re really awesome,” a testament Bob Hope echoed during halftime in the press box.

Game 5: Iowa, Oct. 11

Ohio State had little trouble moving to 5-0 with a 49-0 trouncing of Iowa, and Griffin was a major part of a Buckeye attack that totaled 32 first downs, 378 rushing yards and 495 total yards.

The Buckeyes, who moved to No. 1 in the polls before the game, had five different players with at least 49 yards on the ground led by Griffin, who totaled 120 yards on 21 carries on the day. The drubbing was so thorough, with Ohio State taking a 28-0 lead to the half, that Griffin had just a single carry in the fourth quarter – a 16-yard tote on the opening play, after which the first team was removed.

Johnson scored three touchdowns as well for Ohio State while freshman quarterback Rod Gerald had two – including a 45-yard scamper on the very first play for the second team.

The game was Griffin’s 26th in a row over 100 yards.

“With Pete running and Arch running and Corny running, it puts enormous pressure on the defense,” Hayes said. “They did a pretty good job of stopping Arch. We weren’t too sure he had (100 yards) until the first play of the fourth quarter. But I wanted him to get the 100. It’s a mark of distinction, not only for Arch but all of us. Nobody in 100 years of football has ever done it.” 

Game 6: Wisconsin, Oct. 18

The top-ranked Buckeyes posted a second consecutive blowout and shutout, moving to 6-0 with a 56-0 drubbing of visiting Wisconsin in the rain in the homecoming game.

OSU had a healthy 406-190 yardage edge thanks largely to 373 yards on the ground, led by 107 yards and a touchdown – just his second of the season – by Griffin on 15 carries. Johnson added 98 yards and two touchdowns while Greene, Gerald, Jeff Logan and Lou Williott also ran for scores.

Griffin nearly scored a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter but was tripped up at the 5 by Ken Simmons one play before a Johnson TD, but the defending Heisman winner got on the board in the third quarter after his brother, Ray, recovered a fumble on Wisconsin’s first play of the second half. Griffin ran for 9 yards, 5 yards and then had a 10-yard touchdown to give OSU a 35-0 lead just 1:20 into the third.

Griffin would run just one more time before the Buckeyes’ second team took the field from there against a mistake-prone Wisconsin team.

“When a team fumbles 10 times and loses five of them and gets intercepted, it’s difficult to evaluate just how well you did play,” Hayes said afterward. 

Game 7: At Purdue, Oct. 25

It was a historic day at Purdue as Griffin set the NCAA career rushing yards record in the No. 1 Buckeyes’ 35-6 win.

The third-largest crowd in Ross-Ade Stadium history, 69,405, was on hand for the moment. Griffin ran for 130 yards on 20 carries, giving him 4,730 in his Buckeye career and allowing him to pass the mark of 4,715 set in 1971 by Cornell’s Ed Marinaro.

The mark was set on Griffin’s longest run of the game, a 23-yard scamper over left guard with 8:20 left in the game. Before the play, the coaching staff informed the Buckeye first team that the opening play of the drive would be their last of the day.

“I knew I had to get it because the second team was coming in,” Griffin said. “This is really great. I never thought about (the record) until I started reading about it, but I owe a lot of praise to the offensive line and the guys in the backfield. A lot of them don’t get the recognition they should get, and I wish you’d give them recognition.”

It was his 28th consecutive game with 100 yards rushing.

Johnson ran for a 60-yard touchdown on Ohio State’s first play, and the Buckeyes never trailed while moving to 7-0. 

Game 8: Indiana, Nov. 1

Ohio State was favored by nearly 50 points but tested by Indiana in Ohio Stadium, as the Hoosiers scored 14 third-quarter points to cut the Buckeyes’ 17-0 halftime lead to three. But the Buckeyes were able to grind out a 24-14 win in front of 87,835 fans thanks in part to Johnson’s 1-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

Johnson and Griffin each ran for 150 yards, Johnson on 33 carries and Griffin on 28 totes of the ball.

Afterward, Hayes wasn’t thrilled with the performance of his top-ranked team.

“About all I can say about today is that we won,” Hayes said. “Indiana undoubtedly played their best game of the year, but we sure didn’t play ours. We were just flat. Indiana did a good job of preparing for us but we obviously didn’t do nearly as well.”

On the other side, energetic Indiana head coach Lee Corso was proud of his team’s effort, one that included 223 yards on the ground. Corso had coached Griffin’s brother, Larry, at Louisville and wanted another shot at one of college football’s first family.

“He’s a great back,” Corso said of Archie. “I saw him after the game and I told him since (Ohio State) got him and Ray and Duncan, I should get the young one.” 

Game 9: At Illinois, Nov. 8

A sellout crowd in Illinois’ Memorial Stadium saw the Buckeyes dominate Illinois every which way it could, as the No. 1 Buckeyes moved to 8-0 with a 40-3 win in Champaign.

Ohio State outrushed the home team 288-133, held a 139-42 advantage in passing yards, earned 23 first downs to the Illini’s eight and forced three turnovers.

Illinois actually scored first on a 36-yard field goal and led 3-0 after a quarter until the Buckeyes pulled away. Griffin began the scoring with a 30-yard run over left guard with 7:39 on the clock in second quarter, highlighting a 23-carry, 127-yard day for the returning Heisman winner, who topped 5,000 career yards.

Tom Skladany then made a 59-yard field goal on the last play of the half to set a Big Ten record before OSU pulled away in the second half behind two Johnson touchdown runs, allowing the fullback to break the Big Ten record with 21 TDs on the season set in 1972 by Buckeye Champ Henson.

Griffin also caught three passes on the day for an OSU offense that made due on a day in which Johnson had only 32 yards on 11 carries.

“I’m glad Pete got the record,” Hayes said afterward. “And Arch had another darn good day. He carried almost all the burden of the running and did an exceptional job.”

Game 10: Minnesota, Nov. 15

The top-ranked Buckeyes moved to 10-0 and set up a showdown with an 8-0-2 Michigan team with a 38-6 romp over Minnesota in Ohio Stadium.

As he had done in every regular-season game since Nov. 25, 1972, Griffin went over 100 yards, pacing Ohio State’s 360-yard rushing effort with 23 carries, 124 yards and a touchdown. The 19-yard score with 3:40 left in the first half gave OSU a 17-0 lead at the break.

Ohio State intercepted Minnesota quarterback Tony Dungy three times and also got touchdown runs from Greene (two), Johnson and Brian Baschnagel. Hayes denied he wanted to get all four in the end zone but pointed out all four had scored in the first half vs. the Gophers the year prior.

“This year it took us a whole game,” Hayes said, smiling.

All four were seniors, and the Buckeyes were able to give a proper Ohio Stadium sendoff to the quartet as well as the rest of the fourth-year players.

“This was a very emotional game,” Hayes said. “The seniors wanted to win it very badly. You sure hate to see the great ones go but you must keep in mind that they come to college to graduate.”

“This is the closest team I have ever had. And the thing that makes it so close is the presence of Archie Griffin. Archie is our biggest star but our biggest star is also our biggest team player.”

Game 11, At Michigan, Nov. 22

Yet another tight affair in the Ten-Year War went Ohio State’s way, with the top-ranked Buckeyes traveling to Ann Arbor and beating No. 4 Michigan by a 21-14 score. The win assured that the seniors on the other side of the field would finish winless against Ohio State.

There was joy on the other sideline, though, as Griffin, Johnson, Greene and the rest of the Buckeye seniors made it a 3-0-1 record in four years of play vs. the Maize and Blue. The Buckeyes were outgained 361-208, but Johnson scored three touchdowns on the day.

Johnson was held to just 52 yards on 18 carries, and Griffin couldn’t do much better, running 19 times for 46 yards. But it was enough, as the Buckeyes alternated touches for Griffin and Johnson to go down the field on a 63-yard scoring drive on their first possession.

OSU was held scoreless from there into the fourth quarter as the home team took a 14-7 lead with 7:11 to play on a Rick Leach keeper, but the Buckeyes quickly countered with an 80-yard drive – kept alive on a third-and-10 catch by Baschnagel in which the back was knocked out cold after making the grab – that was capped when Johnson bulled in on fourth-and-goal from a yard out with 3:18 to play.

Needing a win to earn a Rose Bowl berth, Michigan stayed aggressive on its next possession, but Griffin’s brother Ray picked off Leach on third-and-19 and returned the ball to the 3. It took just one play for Johnson to run over right guard for the winning touchdown with 2:19 to play.

Leach was then intercepted by Cassady’s son Craig on the next possession, assuring OSU of the win.

“I’d have to say this is our greatest comeback, so this has got to be the greatest game I’ve ever coached,” Hayes crowed.

Griffin’s streak of consecutive 100-yard games ended at 31.

“I couldn’t be happier,” he said. “We won the game and that’s the most important thing. I feel great. The streak had to end sometime and as long as we won … man, that’s all that counts.” 

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