Catching up with Ohio State's Archie Griffin

July, 1, 2011
7/01/11
9:00
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Several people can make the claim to being the best player in college football history. But only one guy has two Heisman Trophies to bolster his argument.

[+] EnlargeArchie Griffin and Woody Hayes
AP File PhotoOhio State's Archie Griffin, right, and coach Woody Hayes after Griffin was awarded the 1975 Heisman Trophy, on Dec. 2, 1975, in New York City.
Ohio State's Archie Griffin won his first Heisman as a junior in 1974, in a time when anyone but a senior earning the honor was still a rarity. He added his second stiff-arm statue in 1975 despite producing fewer rushing yards and touchdowns than he did as a junior. He also led the Big Ten in rushing as a sophomore.

Griffin was never physically imposing at a listed 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds. But that couldn't measure his heart or determination. He won the Buckeyes' starting tailback job as a true freshman, led the team to a 40-5-1 record during his career and started in four straight Rose Bowls. He finished with 5,177 career yards, and that was with Woody Hayes often resting him in the second half because the team was so far ahead.

Thanks to his incredible collegiate achievements, Griffin earned the No. 1 ranking in ESPN.com's Simply Saturday series, which profiles great college players who didn't quite reach the same heights in the NFL. That's not to say Griffin didn't have an impact in the pros; he played seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and even made a Super Bowl. He just didn't match his exploits at Ohio State, scoring seven career touchdowns and posting a career-best of 688 yards in 1979.

I recently caught up with Griffin, who has been the president of the Ohio State Alumni Association since January 2004:

What's it like serving as the head of the alumni association for your alma mater?

Archie Griffin: It's a wonderful feeling. I certainly enjoy working with alumni and having the opportunity to do the best we can to keep them connected to the university and making it special for them. It's really a wonderful job.

How much do people want to talk football with you whenever you're at alumni functions?

AG: Football has certainly been a big part of my life, especially in the time I was playing. They always ask questions in regard to the game and what's happening at Ohio State. There's a big interest there and a great tradition, so certainly they want to know a lot about it.

What led you into this job?

AG: It's a position I originally was not interested in, but a search firm contacted me in regards to it and got me interested. I originally was going to stay in athletics, as I spent 19 years in athletics at Ohio State and was going to continue that. I had aspirations at one time of being an athletic director until this came along. But it's been a great position for me, and I'm intending to stay in this position.

You had so many great accomplishments as a player at Ohio State. What really stands out to you when you think back on that time?

AG: The thing that really stands out would be my teammates and the teams I played on, the players and the coaching staff. That's what was special about those years. I've always said I was at the right place at the right time with the right people. And I'm talking about great teammates and a coaching staff that allowed us to showcase our ability. And as a result, we had great success.

Anytime an underclassman wins a Heisman, your name is inevitably brought up. What's it like having your legacy be preserved and constantly mentioned?


AG: It brings you back to when you were at a place where there were outstanding athletes and coaches who made sure they got the best out of the talent those athletes they had. Again, it all boils down to the team I was on.

Where are your two Heismans?

AG: One of them is at the new Ohio Union -- they've got a ballroom named in my honor there, so it's in a case outside that ballroom. The other one is at a place called the Buckeye Hall of Fame Grill. I figured more people would see them in those places than would ever see them at my home.

Do you think someone will ever win two Heismans in a career again?

AG: I think so. As a matter of fact, I thought somebody would have done it by now. And it hasn't happened, but certainly it's going to happen when you have sophomores win the award. I believe somebody will win it twice, and possibly a third time.

With today's media and so much analysis and criticism of players, it seems like every detail of a defending Heisman winner's game is picked apart. You actually won your second Heisman with stats that were down from the previous year. Do you ever think of what it might have been like if you had today's media covering you?


AG: No, I don't think about that. I was part of the times when I won. I'm sure that the criticisms and those folks whose job is to analyze an athlete and teams -- I'm sure I would have gotten a little bit of that, no question.

What do you take from your time in the NFL?

AG: I enjoyed those years in Cincinnati. We had some good times, some good years and some bad years. But any time you go through that and the game itself, it's a learning experience. Football teaches you a lot of life lessons. You learn to deal with adversity and learn to get up when you get knocked down. So you take those things with you when you get on with life's work. Even with those tough times in Cincinnati, I did learn how to deal with some really tough adversity, so it was all beneficial. And I enjoyed going to a Super Bowl in that time as well.

Did you think you would ultimately have more success than you did in the NFL?

AG: Oh yeah. Don't get me wrong, I feel like I did have success. You can only do what you get the opportunity to do, and I will say I did the best I could with the opportunity I had. I think if you look at pro football players, if you can average 4 yards per carry and catch the number of passes coming out of the backfield that I caught, I think you could be happy with that. I'm certainly happy with that.

I'll be honest with you: when I came into pro football, I had goals of gaining 1,000 yards in a season. But I quickly learned that I wasn't going to run the ball enough to get those kinds of numbers. So I changed my goals, and I wanted to average about 5 yards per carry. I didn't quite average that, but I averaged over 4 yards per carry. And again, any back in pro football would feel like he had success if he averaged 4 yards per carry.

What was it like spending basically your entire career in the same state and same area?

AG: It's been very nice. When I came out of Ohio State, I said I wanted to stay in Ohio so fans of mine could watch me play. I've been fortunate enough to do that and am glad that it happened that way.

How much interaction do you have with the current football team?

AG: I have some interaction. I have a son on the team [redshirt freshman defensive back Adam Griffin] and he comes by the house with some teammates every now and then. Some players come by and see me every now and then, and I get to go over there and watch practice sometimes. I really enjoy it.

It must be nice seeing your No. 45 retired in the stadium, too.

AG: I count that as a wonderful blessing.

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