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Ray Kennedy
September 08, 1975
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
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September 08, 1975

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

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Other times Griffin will guide a blocker with his free hand and follow him in near lockstep through the line, shoving and directing him with cries of "Go! Go! Get 'em!" Then, when he has set up a block, he will deliberately swing his hips into his teammate and bounce away like a pinball coming off a bumper.

Neal Colzie, the first-round draft choice of the Oakland Raiders, says that after scrimmaging against Griffin at OSU for three seasons he knows what frustration is. "As a defensive back you know beforehand that Anthony Davis, say, is going to try to run around you just like you know Sam Cunningham is going to try to run over you," Colzie says. "But when you come heads up with Archie, you don't know what to expect. If you get too set, he just might sizzle around you. If you play it too loose, then he might slam right over you."

Griffin was the nation's second-leading rusher last season with 1,620 yards, most of it gained by running inside where the hardest licks are taken. Knowing that, the Buckeyes have outfitted their prize property with special heavy-duty thigh pads that are a few inches bigger than standard size, a sight that inspired Lee Corso to order similar outsized models for his Indiana backs. "I thought it was the thigh pads that made Griffin so hard to bring down," says Corso. "I put the same kind on Courtney Snyder last fall, and he did a pretty good job. But I found out that it ain't quite pads with Archie Griffin."

It ain't quite total protection with the pads, either. Despite the custom-made armor, Trainer Billy Hill says that "After a game Archie is one big mass of bruises. Even his hands are swollen with knots the size of golf balls. Many times he's so banged up he's unable to practice until the Thursday before a game."

Immersed in whirlpool baths, bombarded by ultrasonic heat waves and preserved in ice packs, Griffin lives to die in other ways. Going into last year's Michigan game, for instance, he was nursing a hip pointer, a painful bone bruise that "hurts like a bolt of lightning every time you cough or breathe too deeply," says Colzie, another victim. Speared from the side in the second quarter, Griffin not only aggravated the hip pointer but also played on with a severe thigh bruise to gain 111 yards and set up the final field goal that gave the Buckeyes a 12-10 victory, the Big Ten co-championship and their third straight trip to the Rose Bowl.

Durability is a trait Archie inherited from his father, a rock of a man who proudly notes, "Did you notice that when Anthony Davis got injured in the Rose Bowl he was right out of there? Well, Archie suffered a rib separation in the first quarter, and he played the whole game. I think it's his desire that keeps him going."

James Griffin Sr. talks a lot about desire as well as pride, devotion, perseverance—all the old verities he learned as a hardscrabble youth and passed on to his sons. "I'm kind of peculiar, I guess, but I think a lot of Christian people are lazy," he says. "They say, 'I don't want nothing but Jesus,' and they think that all they have to do is pray, and everything will come to them. But I don't think He meant it like that. He gives everybody a talent, and it's up to us to double and triple it. Just praying alone don't do it. People used to laugh, but I always said I was going to send all my kids to college. I didn't know how, but I knew I'd get them through someway. You got to reach out and do things for yourself. You got to work and keep on working."

Raised in Holden, W. Va., a coal-mining camp in Appalachia, James Griffin had more spunk than size. He played football in high school, earning an honorable mention on the all-state team as a 119-pound guard ("Guards had to be fast, back then," he says). After a stint in the Navy and a fling as a featherweight boxer he married Margaret Monroe, the second of 13 children, from a nearby mining camp in Hatfield Bottom, and went to work in the No. 1 Hole of the Island Creek Coal Company.

Convinced that "athletics offered the best opportunity for my kids to get ahead," he decided on baseball as the family vocation because "it was the only sport that colored could get into in those days." His goal was to raise an entire team of Griffins.

When mechanization caused layoffs in the mines James Griffin moved his growing family to Columbus in 1952, where he established a punishing routine that he still follows, working 20 hours a day. He manned a sanitation truck by day, worked in a steel foundry at night and served as a janitor in a high school in the wee hours between. He charged James Jr. with the role of "second daddy," telling him, "Whatever you do, the others will follow."

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