All-Time Greatest – No. 2: Archie Griffin

BuckeyeSports.com has been counting down the days until Ohio State's 2008 season opener against Youngstown State with its list of the 50 greatest Buckeyes of all-time. With just two days left until kickoff, the series continues today with No. 2: two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.

He was never the biggest football player on the field nor was he the strongest or fastest. But Archie Griffin outworked, outhustled and outplayed every competitor on his way to becoming the first player in history to start four consecutive Rose Bowls and the only college player to own two Heisman Trophies.

Born Aug. 21, 1954, in Columbus, Ohio, Archie Mason Griffin was one of eight children in a family that included seven boys. He began playing sports about the time he could walk and went on to become a three-sport star at Eastmoor High School. In fact, he was team captain of his prep football, wrestling and track teams.

But football was his first love and he won All-Ohio honors as a fullback in his senior year for the Warriors. Griffin had always been a fan of Ohio State football growing up, but never thought he had a chance to play for the Buckeyes. In fact, he had narrowed his college choices to Northwestern or the U.S. Naval Academy.

A meeting at the old Jai Lai restaurant (now the Buckeye Hall of Fame Café) changed that. Griffin joined OSU head coach Woody Hayes there one evening and the old coach proceeded to talk about the university and its academic offerings. Not once, however, did Hayes ever mention football.

Once Griffin returned home, his father asked him how the meeting went. Archie replied, "I don't think he wants me to play football for him." When his father asked how he had come to that conclusion, the answer was, "Well, we never talked about football. All he wanted to talk about was school." His father smiled, nodded, and said, "You go to Ohio State and play football for that man."

Hayes had already been in contact with Griffin's parents and received their blessing. The rest, as they say, is history.

In a career that was marked by the highest of highs, his first game was anything but a career highlight. During a 21-0 win over Iowa in the 1972 season opener, the Buckeyes were cruising to victory when Hayes decided to get some late-game work for his backup players.

In the first year that freshmen were eligible, Griffin's name was called and he ran onto the field and heard his number called for the first play.

"As the play developed," he remembered later in the book What It Means To Be A Buckeye, I was shocked because there was this gaping hole in front of me. On that play, I did something fundamentally wrong. I kept my eyes on that hole and never looked back at the football, which hit me right in the hands and bounced off. I had fumbled on my first play."

That was his first play and his last one that day. In fact, Griffin figured that might be his first and last play of his rookie season.

Yet, the following week, Hayes put him into the game early against North Carolina. The Tar Heels had blocked a punt to take a 7-0 lead and the coach wasn't happy with the way the Buckeyes were moving the ball. Griffin eagerly took advantage of his second chance, winding up with 239 yards and new single-game OSU record as the Buckeyes rolled to a 29-14 victory.

Griffin was installed as a starter in the third game and never relinquished that role for the next four seasons. He began piling up yardage in chunks and helped the Buckeyes to a 9-1 regular-season finish that included a 14-11 victory over third-ranked Michigan. Griffin ran 30 yards for the decisive touchdown against the Wolverines, a win that earned the Buckeyes a berth in the Rose Bowl.

He collected 95 yards on 20 carries in Pasadena, but OSU fell victim to a talent-laden Southern Cal team – which featured such stars as Anthony Davis, Lynn Swann and Sam "Bam" Cunningham, who scored four touchdowns that day – and lost a 42-17 decision.

Griffin finished his freshman season with 867 yards, a freshman mark that would last for 18 years until Robert Smith broke it in 1990 with 1,126 yards.

The following season, Griffin simply got better and the Buckeyes entered a period during which they were the pre-eminent offensive machine in college football.

Over the next three seasons, Ohio State would compile a 31-3-1 record, capture three more Big Ten championships and become the first conference team ever to appear in four consecutive Rose Bowls. And the Buckeyes did it with an awesome offense that averaged more than 35 points per game from 1973-75.

OSU had such stars as quarterback Cornelius Greene, fullback Pete Johnson and wingback Brian Baschnagel during that period, but Griffin always provided the juice for the Buckeyes' attack. Beginning in his sophomore season of 1973, he began a streak of 100-yard games that eventually reached an NCAA-record 31 consecutive regular-season games.

He also cracked the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time as a sophomore, smashing the school's single-season mark by more than 400 yards with 1,577 yards on 257 carries.

The Buckeyes rolled to a 10-0-1 mark that season, the only blemish being a 10-10 tie against Michigan that eventually cost the team a national championship. But they had their revenge on Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl, doubling up on the Trojans for a 42-21 victory. Griffin rushed for 149 yards in that contest, including a 47-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter that put a cap on the scoring.

Following the season, he earned a first-team All-American honor from United Press International and earned Big Ten most valuable player honors as well as the Ohio State team MVP award.

In 1974, he simply continued to get better. Beginning with a 26-carry, 133-yard performance in a 34-19 win over Minnesota, Griffin rushed for at least 111 yards in each of the Buckeyes' regular-season games and scored at least one touchdown in eight straight.

Unfortunately, OSU suffered an untimely upset at the hands of Michigan State, but finished the season with another victory over Michigan. Griffin again had a hand in the win, totaling 111 yards in the 12-10 triumph over the Wolverines.

But it was another bitter disappointment in the Rose Bowl as the opponents again were the Trojans. USC successfully bottled up Griffin, limiting him to just 75 yards, and mounted an 83-yard drive in the final minutes to squeeze out an 18-17 win that cost the Buckeyes another national championship.

Nevertheless, Griffin had bettered his school-record rushing mark from the year before, piling up 1,695 yards to go along with 12 touchdowns. He earned his second consecutive Big Ten player of the year award and was again voted by his teammates as the OSU most valuable player.

Then, in December, he outpointed Southern Cal tailback Anthony Davis to become only the fifth junior ever to win the Heisman Trophy.

The following season, Hayes began an unprecedented campaign to get his star tailback a second Heisman Trophy, and again his teammates allowed Griffin to operate as the star of the Buckeyes. On a squad that had narrowly missed the two previous national championships and was ranked No. 3 in the country heading into the 1975 season, Griffin continued his regular-season streak of 100-yard games.

OSU opened that season against a pair of ranked teams – No. 11 Michigan State and No. 7 Penn State. The Spartans, who had beaten the Buckeyes two of the previous three seasons, were no match this time, bowing 21-0 in the opener as Griffin ran for 108 yards and all three touchdowns. The following week, Ohio State took the measure of the Nittany Lions, 17-9, and Griffin totaled 128 yards.

After a 32-7 win over North Carolina in the third game of the season, the Buckeyes had their first road test in the Rose Bowl against No. 13 UCLA. The Bruins were no match for OSU, which rolled 41-20 as Griffin totaled another 160 yards and a touchdown.

Seemingly, nothing could stop the Buckeyes in '75. They rolled through the regular season with a perfect 11-0 record, piling up 374 total points to just 79 for their opponents. Included was a bittersweet 21-14 victory over No. 4-ranked Michigan for Griffin. He finished his career with a 3-0-1 record against "That Team Up North," but he was held to just 46 yards on 19 carries, stopping his streak of consecutive regular-season 100-yard games at 31.

Nevertheless, Griffin finished his senior campaign with 1,450 yards and a career total for 5,589 yards, a new school and NCAA record at the time. He won his third consecutive All-Big Ten honor, third straight All-American award, and when the votes were tabulated for the 1975 Heisman Trophy, had become the first player ever to capture college football's highest honor twice. Finishing second was California tailback Chuck Muncie followed by Ricky Bell of Southern Cal and Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh.

Ranked No. 1 heading into the Rose Bowl, the stars appeared to be aligned for the Buckeyes to win their first national title since 1968. UCLA, a team that OSU had easily dispatched earlier in the season, had risen back to No. 11 in the polls and would serve as the opponent. Unfortunately, Ohio State seemed a little overconfident, and as the game continued, a little too conservative.

The Buckeyes took a 3-0 lead at halftime, but couldn't protect it. The Bruins tied the game early in the third quarter, then used a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback John Sciarra to Wally Henry to take a 16-3 lead.

Pete Johnson scored on a 3-yard run in the fourth quarter to draw OSU within six points at 16-10, but UCLA tailback Wendell Tyler broke off a 54-yard touchdown run and the Bruins upset the Buckeyes, 23-10.

Griffin finished his career with 93 yards on 17 carries in the game and became the first – and still only – player ever to start in four consecutive Rose Bowls.

When he left OSU, Griffin had established new NCAA records for most 100-yard games in a career (33) and best career yards-per-carry average (6.13).

Following his career, the Cincinnati Bengals made Griffin their first-round selection in the 1976 NFL draft and he played seven pro seasons. His best year was 1979 when he set career highs in carries (140), rushing yardage (688), receptions (43) and receiving yardage (417). He also played with the Bengals when they made their first Super Bowl appearance after the 1981 season, losing a narrow 26-21 decision to San Francisco.

In 98 NFL games, Griffin totaled 2,808 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground and added 192 catches for 1,607 yards and six TDs. Painful leg and foot injuries plagued him the last couple of years of his pro career and he retired following the 1982 season.

In 1981, Griffin was elected to the OSU Athletic Hall of Fame, and five years later was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the Rose Bowl and National High School halls of fame. In 1999, he became the first Ohio State football player honored with a jersey retirement when the university officially put his No. 45 into permanent mothballs.

Following his retirement from the NFL, Griffin returned to his alma mater and he eventually became associate athletic director. In 2003, Griffin became president and chief executive officer of the Ohio State Alumni Association.

He continues to lend his name to a number of Columbus-area charitable causes, including the Archie and Bonita Griffin Foundation Fund to help develop sports, education and travel programs for children in central Ohio.

But perhaps he is best known as a goodwill ambassador for college football and Ohio State. In fact, former OSU athletic director Andy Geiger perhaps summed it up best when he said, "My nickname for Archie is ‘The Flag.' He is the Ohio State symbol in so many ways."

Yesterday: No. 3 Vic Janowicz

Tomorrow: No. 1


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