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The Ohio Player
Ray Kennedy
August 19, 2008
Archie Griffin walks on water in his home state—because of the way he played and the way he lives
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August 19, 2008

The Ohio Player

Archie Griffin walks on water in his home state—because of the way he played and the way he lives

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And so it goes, back and forth: 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 had switched to defense and their sister has not suited up yet.

THOUGH THE PILE of 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 of 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.

On a recent afternoon our hero, fresh from averaging a dozen yards a carry in the Buckeyes' annual spring game, was at the wheel of his spoke-wheel Buick Regal, 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 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.

That is not a sentiment one finds echoed by rival coaches, who, like everyone else, can find no fault with Griffin. "We finally got a stay of execution," says Washington State's Jim Sweeney, who watched Archie gain 196 yards against the Cougars last season. "We don't have to play against Archie Griffin this year. What he can do is accelerate. He's an excellent, intelligent runner, a team guy who utilizes his blockers, but when he wants to leave the pack—goodbye. We did our part in making him what he is today, but now he's on his own."

Some coaches even ascribe mystical qualities to Griffin. Indiana's Lee Corso, for example, claims, "He has unbelievable peripheral vision. I saw him go through a hole in our line that wasn't there. It was an off-tackle to the left. You could see the hole develop, but then three of our men played it perfectly and closed it up. Griffin suddenly got through for 12 yards. It was one of the greatest runs I've ever seen."

Opponents award Griffin the highest mark for his mastery of the ABCs of running—Acceleration, Balance, Consistency. And they give him a flat F, as in Fearsome, for his blocking.

Minnesota assistant Dick Moseley recalls how last season, when the Gophers were trailing the Buckeyes by nine points in the fourth quarter, OSU quarterback Cornelius Greene shook loose for 57 yards and the clinching touchdown. "We thought that our safety, Doug Beaudoin, could make the tackle, and he seldom misses," says Moseley. "Until we saw the films, we didn't realize Griffin had put a block on Doug and just plain knocked him down."

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