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Archie Griffin talks Ohio State-Michigan football, more in Canton

CANTON TWP. – The Mount Rushmore of Ohio State football included the late Woody Hayes and Archie Griffin. Good luck discussing the other two.

A stone effigy of Hayes' face would face north and stare at his arch-rival.

Griffin took on the Beat Michigan mantle in the flesh at the Hall of Fame Luncheon Club.

“We've got to get this thing back on track,” Griffin told a packed house at Tozzi's on Monday 12th. “It's time for this to stop. Just now.”

Beginning with Jim Tressel's first year as head coach, Ohio State beat Michigan 17 times in 19 years. Michigan has won its last three games.

The conclusion of the club's 2023-24 season was a big day. Griffin was in the house, picked up the season-high 50-50 winning ticket worth $321 from a glass, then received a standing ovation to the “OH” chant.

This audience was old enough to remember Griffin's four seasons as a running back at Ohio State University (1972-75).

His record against Michigan was three wins and one draw.

Griffin recalled Hayes' obsession with “that team.” He remembers Michigan mats laid out in the locker room to wipe dirty feet. Buckeye legends showed up to get the team going.

“My first year, one of the former players said very emphatically, ‘This isn’t a game.’ This is a WAR!,” Griffin said. “I thought, oh my God… what have I gotten myself into?”

He explained how he got there.

He set records at Columbus Eastmoor High School but was considered too small to make it at Ohio State.

An older brother, Larry, was a fullback at Louisville, Kentucky. Another, Daryle, was a cornerback at Kent State.

The Griffins drove from Columbus to Kent on Saturday afternoons to watch Daryle play. then on Saturday evening they drove from Kent to Louisville to see Larry.

Archie was about to become the third brother to play college football at the same time and thought he would end up at Northwestern.

“Dad worked three jobs, but he took time off to take me to the airport to visit Northwestern,” Griffin said. “When he dropped me off, he leaned over and said, 'We'd like to see you play.'

“I knew exactly what he wanted to say. I attended the visit, but when he said that, I knew I wasn’t going to Northwestern.”

The NCAA did not allow freshmen to play until 1972. The ban was lifted in part because a plane crash killed much of the Marshall team and newcomers were needed for the Thundering Herd to compete.

Griffin played in the opening game of 1972, late in a 21-0 win over Iowa. On his first snap, he took his eyes off the ball, fumbled a pitch and was knocked off the ball.

“I told my dad, 'I don't know if I'll get another chance,'” he remembers.

He was surprised at the start of the next game when the coaches yelled for him to go inside.

“I was so excited that I ran and forgot to take my helmet with me,” he said.

He ran against North Carolina and set the Ohio State record with 239 yards.

“I asked the Lord the night before if I could do my best when I played,” he said. “I consider it a miracle.”

With Griffin starring in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, the Buckeyes flirted with national championships.

In 1973, he ran for 1,428 yards. The team was 9-0 and ranked No. 1 before falling to a 10-10 tie at Michigan. The Buckeyes defeated USC 42-17 in the Rose Bowl to take second place to Notre Dame.

He ran for 1,620 yards in 1974. The team was 8-0 and ranked No. 1 before falling 16-13 at Michigan State. After a 12-10 victory over No. 3 Michigan, Griffin won his first Heisman Trophy.

Nothing highlights the royalty of modern reality quarterbacks more than Heisman's vote.

The top seven selectors in 2022, including third-ranked CJ Stroud from Ohio State, were quarterbacks.

In 2023, Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. was the only non-quarterback ranked in the top six.

Seven of the last eight Heisman winners have been quarterbacks.

Griffin stood in front of the Luncheon Club, when living Proof Runners once ruled the Earth.

His second Heisman in 1975 was controversial at the time and remains controversial in retrospect.

The only quarterbacks in the top 10 were UCLA's John Sciarra (7th) and Toledo's Gene Swick (10th).

The top four, all running backs, were Griffin with 454 first-place votes; Cal's Chuck Muncie at 145, USC's Ricky Bell at 70 and Pitt's Tony Dorsett at 66.

Their rushing yards/average/touchdown production was 1,357/5.5/4 for Griffin, 1,460/6.4/13 for Muncie, 1,875/5.3/13 for Bell and 1,544/6.8/11 for Dorsett.

But Griffin was a top player for a long time. Additionally, the Heisman Trophy is based on the regular season.

The 1975 Buckeyes were 11-0 at No. 1 after a 21-14 win at No. 4 Michigan. The national championship was lost with a 23-10 loss in the Rose Bowl to UCLA, which had lost 41-20 to Ohio State earlier in the season.

Griffin went to Cincinnati as the No. 24 NFL draft pick in 1976. As a rookie, he ran 13 times for 139 yards against the Chiefs, but went on to a normal seven-year career with the Bengals. He was almost finished when he scored on a carry in a Super Bowl loss to the 49ers on January 24, 1982.

He touched on some NFL moments.

At one point after a vicious hit, Dallas linebacker Hollywood Henderson bellowed, “I hit a Heisman Trophy from each hand.”

Then there was Pittsburgh linebacker Jack Lambert.

“We were getting ready to play the Steelers,” Griffin said. “Lambert had blood everywhere. Where does it come from?”

Griffin, 69, worked in the Ohio State athletic department and alumni office for 30 years. In recent years he maintained residences in Westerville and Florida.

He knows Stark County well. Steve Luke of Massillon was his roommate at Ohio State. Jeff Logan of North Canton was an understudy.

When asked about his heroes, he named Woody Hayes and recalled that after practice the coach would load as many players as could fit into a Chevy El Camino and then drive to a children's hospital out of goodwill.

“Woody,” he added, “has been working on you all week. You were ready to break down the door on game day.”

He named his parents, who had realized their dream of having all eight of their children earn college degrees.

He appointed a middle school counselor named Oscar who taught him “the three Ds”: desire, dedication and determination.

“The three Ds became my secret ingredient,” he said.

Reach out to Steve at steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com

Anna Harden

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