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Griffin's playing weight never topped 180 last season, and his listed height of 5' 9" is on the generous side. He creates optical illusions because, like the mythical griffin, which was part lion and part eagle, his powers are a blend of disproportionate parts. In brief Griffin has the upper body of George Foreman stacked on the lower half of Ron Cey. But even that is only an approximation, for Griffin's waist measurement (31) is three inches smaller than Foreman's, and his chest (48) 2� inches larger. Cey, the Los Angeles Dodgers' third baseman who is nicknamed the Penguin, has a similar gait but nowhere near the quickness of Griffin.
Archie's teammates call him Duckfoot. Hayes describes his leg action as "wide, splayed to the left." And the press goes on about his "bandy-legged brilliance." Yet it is Griffin himself, saying it all dates to his Butterball days, who provides the most accurate description. "I waddle," he says.
At full waddle Griffin runs low, pitched forward at a precipitous angle. His shoulders roll one way, his hips another. And all the while his legs keep bowing crazily out to the side while somehow churning forward. Add a center of gravity that is somewhere around his instep, and you have a moving target that is hard to nail. Tackling Archie, says Wisconsin assistant Lew Stueck, is "like trying to tackle a falling tree in a windstorm."
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. Trainer Billy Hill says that "after a game Archie is one big mass of bruises. 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. Speared from the side in the second quarter, Griffin not only aggravated the injury 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.
James Griffin Sr. talks a lot about desire, as well as pride, devotion, perseverance—all the old verities he learned in a hardscrabble youth and passed on to his sons. Raised in Holden, W.Va., a coal-mining camp in Appalachia, James 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. 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 number 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 [African-Americans] could get into in those days." His goal was to raise a team of Griffins.
When mechanization caused layoffs in the mines, James 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."
Instead of infields, the Griffin boys were soon populating backfields—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 sweatshirt (for Jim Brown), Archie began his career playing 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 youth 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. 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 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."