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James Jr., now a Columbus insurance man, recalls, "It was very easy to get into trouble with your father not around. But the fact that none of us ever did shows the respect we had for him. He believes in the Ralph Bunche dream, that if you do your best, you will succeed regardless of color or class."
Or sport. Instead of infields the Griffin boys were soon populating back-fields—except for Archie, that is. He came up the slow way. Corduroys hiked to his knees, thighs padded with folded cardboard, a "32" inked on his sweat shirt ( Jim Brown was his hero), Archie began his career playing "smear the queer," a variation of kill the man with the ball, in a field across from Griffin's Grocery. "The toughest maneuver was cutting back on the rocks and broken bottles," Archie recalls. Tougher still was following his brothers' fast-stepping lead when he moved up to Little League football. "I played middle guard," Archie says, "because I fit the description—short and fat."
Nicknamed "Tank" because of his ponderous ways on the field, Archie decided at age 12 to pare down his 150 pounds. By then the family had given up the grocery store and, instead of mainlining on Almond Joys, he began running to and from school. He lifted "weights"—two cases of beer bottles filled with dirt and attached to the ends of a mop handle. He converted the family bathroom into a steam box by turning the hot water on full force; then, encasing his body in airtight plastic cleaning bags, he did jumping jacks until the plastic melted on his back. And on hot summer days he pulled on three mohair sweaters, climbed into the family's disabled station wagon, rolled up the windows and did sit-ups while dreaming of dancing down the sideline.
He spurted across a finish line instead, startling both himself and the junior high coach who was holding tryouts for the track team. "Before I knew it," says Archie, "I was anchoring the 440 and 880 relay teams." When he turned out for football in the fall of his 13th year, "No fullback showed up, so I volunteered, and they told me to stay there."
James Sr. recalls, "I never knew Archie had streamlined himself into a back until I saw him play his first game that year. I remember he ran off tackle for a 50-yard touchdown, but they called it back because of an offside penalty. So on the next play he ran 55 yards, but they called it back again. So then, darned if he didn't run 60 yards, and this time the refs must have got tired, because they gave him the touchdown. I remember saying to one of my older boys, 'Man, we got something here.' "
Bob Stuart, coach of Eastmoor High, was sure of it when "Archie walked on the field and asked what he had to do to play first string. He was ready to play right there. He started as a sophomore, and by his final year he was just scary. I can never remember one man tackling him; you had to bring folks. Heck, Archie played the last three games with a broken bone in his foot, and they still couldn't catch him."
The gilding of Griffin goes on and on. And so did his parents, who for several years drove hundreds of miles to see their far-flung sons play in as many as six games over a fall weekend. Spacing out his vacation days, James Sr. reserved Friday nights for high school games, and then, he says, "We'd leave that one and go to the next one and the next one, until we ran out." Archie says, "My father never missed a game when we were in high school. You knew he was there because you could feel his eyes on you. You could hear him, too, yelling at you from the sidelines. We all performed for him. We didn't want him to use his vacation time in vain."
Eventually, caught speeding to make the kickoff of one game while listening to another on the car radio, the Griffins decided that there had to be a better way. That, more than any other reason, is why there will be three Griffins playing together this season in a stadium that is a leisurely drive from the family home. As Raymond said after he rejected a heavy recruiting rush put on him by Nebraska, "If I went anywhere but Ohio State, my mommy would die."
Which is not to say that there was not a lot of hard sell involved in Archie's case. All-Ohio in high school, he had more than 150 offers. Looking for "a smaller school where I could play right away," Archie settled at first on Northwestern. Ohio State was a contender, but there were reservations. As James Sr. says, "When we first came to Columbus, people told us that Coach Hayes didn't like colored, and we wanted to find out for ourselves." Rudy Hubbard, then a Hayes assistant and now the head coach at Florida A&M, obliged by taking the Griffins to supper with six black businessmen who had played under Hayes. The message, says Hubbard, was that "most white coaches are prejudiced, but the trend is changing, and Woody is more than fair in most cases."
As a follow-up, Hayes' wife Anne took Mrs. Griffin to lunch, and then for the clincher, says Hubbard, "We brought in the heavy hitter himself." Woody made an instant convert of James Sr., who says with some amazement, "It isn't nothing for Coach Hayes to come into your house and talk. And Mrs. Hayes kisses me whenever she sees me, I don't care how many people are around."