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If someone says, for example, that Archie plays for a conference champion, it quickly will be pointed out that so did James Jr. as a halfback at Muskingum, Larry as a fullback at Louisville and Daryle as a cornerback at Kent State. Or it it be noted that Archie was the 165-pound high school wrestling champion of Greater Columbus, big deal, someone will say, Duncan won the district title in the same weight class.
And so it goes, back and forth, great vs. greater: Archie, in his best effort last season, averaged 9.5 yards a carry and scored once against Northwestern; Raymond, an OSU freshman playing behind his brother in the same game, averaged 11 yards and also scored. Archie accounted for 72 points and 12 touchdowns last year and was the Buckeyes' No. 2 scorer; Keith, a halfback and safety, was the No. 1 scorer for Johnson Park Junior High. Archie, a weight-machine addict, is strong; Duncan, a 5'11", 190-pound freshman linebacker at Ohio State, is stronger. Archie, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, is fast; Raymond, with a 4.3 clocking, is faster. Archie is God-fearing; Daryle was voted the 1975 Ohio Christian Athlete of the Year.
There is no winning. Even Archie's Heisman statuette looks lost in the Griffin recreation room, where hundreds of trophies, plaques, medals, citations, ribbons, bronzed cleats, enshrined helmets and mounted hunks of goalposts adorn all four walls, climb the stairway and spill over into the dining room. It is perhaps only fitting, for in a recent—and painfully truthful—family poll as to which Griffin is, was or will be the best running back, Archie tied for third, and then only because Daryle and Duncan switched to defense and their sister Crystal has not suited up yet.
Though the hardware continues to mount, in all seriousness (bragging, like smoking, drinking and swearing, is strictly forbidden in the Griffin home) the father and proud custodian of the trophy room says he will still be able to make room for what he expects will be a minimum of three more Heismans.
And what James Sr. says goes; in another family survey the Griffin brothers unanimously avow that the man they respect most in the world is their father. Further respect, a favorite Griffin word, is paid to their mother for holding forth during all the trying years when the patriarch was absent. Which was often, since James Sr., 54 and still subsisting on fewer than four hours sleep a night, has been holding down two full-time and up to three part-time jobs for the past 23 years. "My father is the hardest-working man there ever was," says Archie, relinquishing yet another title.
The Remarkable Griffins is how James Retter thinks he might entitle the phenomenon in a book based in part on his recollections as Archie's junior high English teacher. Was there a dark chapter in Griffin's past, something scandalous like a C+ in Chaucer? "Archie was a model student," says Retter, "the most motivated, single-minded youngster I've ever seen. He got the best grades, was the first with his hand up, was the most spontaneous, the most...."
Ah, well, back to Loretta Laffitte; ultimately she alone showed that faultfinding, while perhaps difficult in Archie's case, is not impossible. All it takes is time. On the afternoon of the big question, riding in her suitor's spoke-wheel Buick Regal, she searched for an answer. Archie, fresh from averaging a dozen yards a carry in the Buckeyes' annual spring game, was at the wheel, chauffeuring a visitor on a tour of the ghettos of his Columbus boyhood.
Stopping by a tumbling, boarded-up storefront that once was Griffin's Grocery, Archie said that his mother and older brothers tended the store while the family, sleeping two or more to a bed, lived in two rooms in the rear. One reason the family enterprise failed, he admitted, was the armloads of ice-cream bars, Almond Joys and Hostess chocolate cupcakes he devoured on the sly. Not surprisingly, the family called him Butterball.
Then, inserting a Spinners recording into the car's tape deck, Archie drove by some of the six other houses the Griffins have lived in, along the streets where he delivered papers, through the neighborhoods where his father collected garbage for the city, past the elementary schools where he gives his 3D speech (Desire, Dedication, Determination) and finally into an OSU parking lot where cars bear the bumper sticker THANK YOU MRS. GRIFFIN.
Suddenly, after an hour of anguished deliberation, Loretta Laffitte made a polite noise. "Ahem," she said, "I have thought of a fault." Shooting a penitent glance at Griffin, she began, "Well, he's a, a.... " Lowering her eyes from the sheer treachery of it all, she said softly, "He's late picking me up sometimes."