Overcoming the 12th man

KEVIN GRIFFIN knows Ohio State football from the inside out, in part because Buckeye legends Archie and Ray Griffin are his uncles, in part because he himself was an OSU standout. He also knows Washington State fairly well. So when asked about his insights to this week's showdown in Columbus, he's quick to point out what he sees as the single biggest key to the game.

"The crowd!" he says.

"The stadium will be loud --- louder than any stadium you'll ever play in. Don't get me wrong, the Cougars and Huskies have great fans, but it's different in the Midwest. The way people cheer and support the program. Playing in Columbus will be a different experience for the Cougars."

And that, he says, is why Ohio State will win the game. Not because they're more talented, but because they have the proverbial 12th man on their side.

"It's not like the Cougars don't have and don't play against this type of talent. They do. The Pac-10 is probably tougher than the Big Ten right now. But Ohio Stadium --- "The Horseshoe" --- with 102,000 fans makes the difference," says Griffin, who played receiver for the Buckeyes and was their special teams captain for two seasons. "The Cougars have a great team. If they played this game on a neutral site, I think the outcome would be totally different."

He expects the Cougars to put up a good battle, but thinks the Buckeye defensive line and running backs, coupled with that unremitting crowd, will wear down the visitors in the fourth quarter.

The place will be so loud, perhaps more than usual --- if that's possible --- because the game has far-reaching implications, he says. And Buckeye fans --- spoiled with a whopping six national championships over the years --- like nothing more than to talk about a return to that cherished Promised Land they haven't seen since before Woody Hayes took up sideline kick-boxing.

And exactly how loud is louder than normal?

So loud, says Griffin, that there's no chance Cougar QB Jason Gesser will ever --- ever! --- be able to make an audible check with his receivers when they're spread out wide. "He can make hand signals, but that's it," says Griffin, an all-everything standout at Kirkland's Juanita High in the early 1990s.

Griffin's view of the match up is unique. He's intimately familiar with Ohio State, of course, but as a football fan through and through, he's been more than just a casual observer of the Cougars since moving to the Seattle area from Columbus at age 7 and then coming back to the region after graduating from college a few years back.

"The Cougars have nothing to lose. Not many people expect them to win, so if they can relax and play their game, you never know what could happen," says Griffin, the assistant executive director for the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

And he knows a thing or two about playing under pressure. His name alone heaped mountains of it on him as he followed in the footsteps of uncles Archie Griffin (a two-time Heisman Trophy winner) and Ray Griffin (an All-American DB who later starred for the Cincinnati Bengals).

But he thrived. He helped the Buckeyes to a nail-biting victory over Arizona State in the 1997 Rose Bowl. A season later, he was a one-man wreaking crew against Arizona and earned Big 10 Player of the Week honors. And in the 1999 Sugar Bowl he was a difference maker in the Buckeyes' hard-fought win over Texas A&M, scooping up a blocked punt and returning it for a TD.

"The Cougars need to remember that they're representing the Pac-10 --- that means they're as good as anybody so don't to get overwhelmed by the atmosphere. If they can take the crowd out of the game, their chances are obviously going to be much better. But to be honest, I can't remember a time in the last ten years when a Pac-10 team came to Columbus and won."

Indeed, no matter where they play, home or away, the Buckeyes have fared well in recent years against the Pac-10, winning eight of the 11 games played against those schools since 1990. One of those eight was a 1991 game against Drew Bledsoe's Cougars --- a game that elevated the Buckeyes' career record against WSU to 7-0 going back to 1952. All but the 1974 WSU contest, played in Seattle, were in Columbus.

Heck, the month of September alone, whether against the Pac-10 or anybody else, has been bountiful for the Buckeyes over the last ten years. They've dropped just four September games, home or road, in that time period. The last was a year ago against UCLA in Pasadena.

But back to Saturday.

"Right now, I see the Buckeyes winning by six," says Griffin. "The 12th man is just hard to get off your back."

IN CASE YOU'RE WONDERING

ARCHIE GRIFFIN,  the only person ever to win the Heisman Trophy twice, is now an associate athletic director at Ohio State. Little brother Ray had a long career in the NFL and now spends much of his time with his kids' activities. Sadly, as a result of repeated ankle, knee and shoulder injuries, his physical condition makes him one of the few former NFL retirees who actually receives disability benefits.

The last of the Buckeyes' six national championships came in 1970 with QB Rex Kern at the helm. The Buckeyes came close in 1996, with their January 1997 Rose Bowl win over Arizona State propelling them to No. 2 in the final poll.


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