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 or 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 mighty Olentangy. 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."
It is only within the tightly knit Griffin huddle, in fact, that myth becomes man. The family game is passing the praise around, a selfless diversion in which there are no legends, only laggards. That is, every time the prowess of a family member is mentioned, one or more of the Griffins will top it by citing the exploits of another. Anyone can be "it," but more often than not these days it is archangel Archie who gets clipped.