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Good Man in the Long Run

Archie Griffin has already zigzagged 3,820 yards to a Heisman Trophy and twice has been All-America, so that now, as he begins his final season at Ohio State, all he has left to prove is that he is the best player in his family

By Ray Kennedy

Sports Illustrated Flashback

Sure, like everyone says, Archie Griffin can run through the side of a mountain, leap the whole state of Michigan in a single bound and all that. And yeah, we know, he's God's gift to impressionable youth, the most wholesome influence since Pat Boone. But C'mon now, surely Archie has a few faults. Like maybe just once he uttered a discouraging word or something? Or perhaps he doesn't know all four stanzas of The Star-Spangled Banner?

The question stuns Loretta Laffitte, an Ohio State coed and Griffin's girl friend of long standing. She draws back as if the flames of heresy were licking about her. She bites her thumb. She knits her brow. She starts to speak, stops, shakes her head and ponders some more.

Archie Griffin, myth and man. The subject stirs strong reactions in and about Columbus, Ohio, ranking right up there on the emotional scale with patriotism and pork-belly futures. At the one extreme there is the perplexed silence of Loretta Laffitte. At the other the torrential outpourings of Woody Hayes, a man who is never at a loss for an answer. Indeed, he does not even need a question.

"Archie Griffin is the greatest back I've ever seen or coached," Hayes says, limbering up. "He's also the most popular player we've ever had, by far. In fact, we value Archie's attitude more than his football ability. Which is saying something, because he can do everything. He's a great blocker, a great faker and a great broken-field runner, one of those rare backs who can run over you and around you. It's like Rommel's wide-front attack or Sherman maneuvering through Georgia. No one ever knew which way they were going, either, and from there on it was strictly option football.

"Archie has promised me that he's going to law school. And then I want him to go into politics. He's a middle-of-the-roader, and that's what our country needs today. Archie doesn't say much. He leads by example. When we go running out at halftime I keep stumbling over him because he's always down there on his knees, praying. Oh, my God, he's so honorable!"

Hayes rolls on and on like the almighty Oletangy. Following the thought flow is tricky, but in this case the drift seems to be that 1) Griffin is a sterling football player, which everyone knows, and 2) he wears a halo under his helmet, which no one believes because coaches are always saying things like that to inspire another first down.

Nevertheless, indications are that Griffin's finest achievement, even more impressive perhaps than winning the Heisman Trophy last year, may be that he comes close to living up to Woody's beatific vision, that he actually may be some kind of seraph in scarlet and gray.

Griffin is truly embarrassed, for example, when asked about that record string he has going of rushing for 100 or more yards in 21 consecutive regular-season games. He also reads the Bible faithfully. He always makes his bed when the team stays in a motel. He dotes on children. He is kind to reporters and other oppressed peoples. And from all accounts he makes grown men applaud when he delivers, as every Heisman hero must, that hoariest of stock lines: "Really, it's not an individual award-it's for my linemen and the whole team."

Griffin is only the fifth player to have won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in the 40-year history of the award and the first since Roger Staubach in 1963. And that is only the half of it. Or more precisely the eighth of it, for James and Margaret Griffin have been raising a veritable athletic dynasty right in the Buckeyes' backyard. The Griffin lineup: James Jr., 27; Larry, 25; Daryle, 23; Archie, 21; Raymond, 19; Duncan, 17; Keith, 13; and Crystal, 10. All the Griffins are or were football players. All are or were captains of their teams. And all are or were All-Everything. Or, as Archie says, "No Griffin ever played on a loser." ...

Now, with Heisman in hand, he stands ready to claim what may be the biggest first ever. James Jr., who has been acting as Archie's manager, says he has turned down all but a few of the 1,000 requests for public appearances. "We wanted Archie to concentrate on getting in the best shape possible for winning another Heisman," he says.

Another Heisman? It's more than a mere possibility; Griffin goes into the 1975 season as a favorite to become the first player to win two.

Beyond meeting the traditional criteria-he is a senior (seniors have won 35 of the 40 Heismans), a back (backs have won 38 times), plays in a major conference (the Big Ten leads all other leagues with nine winners) for a renowned team (Ohio State's four winners are second only to Notre Dame's six) -- Griffin has four additional advantages.

First, given his already impressive statistics, Griffin figures to go on making the kind of news-he needs only 896 more yards, for example, to break the career rushing record of 4,715 set by Cornell's Ed Marinaro in 1971 -- that influences Heisman voters.

Second, the increasing popularity of the veer and wishbone has greatly diminished the chances of a free-flinging quarterback coming to the fore.

Third, marked man that he is, Griffin will again benefit mightily from Ohio State's all-around running attack, a threat that makes ganging up on the Heisman hotshot "tactical suicide," as Minnesota assistant coach Dick Moseley puts it.

And fourth, while his chief rival, Oklahoma's Joe Washington, will once more suffer from the TV ban imposed on the Sooners by the NCAA for recruiting violations, Griffin should be gaining valuable exposure points in the two Buckeye regular-season games that will be telecast nationwide this fall.

All told, Griffin's Heisman hopes seem endangered only by a pair of intangibles  prejudice and precedent. Some voters, particularly if the contest is at all close, will undoubtedly reject Griffin solely on the grounds that two Heismans is one two many for any player. And if Archie is to endure as something more than one-fifth of a trivia question, he will have to avoid injuries and other turns of fate that caused the other four players who won the award as juniors- Army's Doc Blanchard in 1945, SMU's Doak Walker in 1948, Ohio State's Vic Janowicz in 1950 and Navy's Staubach-to fade in their final seasons.

Margaret Griffin has a feeling Archie will repeat. "When he was in high school," she says, "I saw it all in this dream. I saw Archie standing with the Heisman Trophy. I saw us standing beside him and all the people gathered around." Have there been sequels? "Well, I had the same dream more than once," she says, giving destiny a prod. ...

Issue date: Sept. 8, 1975


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