Bob Stuart, coach of Eastmoor High, remembers 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."
All-Ohio in high school, Archie had more than 150 scholarship 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. That is until, says Rudy Hubbard, then a Hayes assistant, "we brought in the heavy hitter himself." Hayes 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."
As insurance Hayes also collared Archie at Eastmoor High early one morning. "Woody was messing around with the wishbone back then," Stuart recalls, "and Archie was afraid he'd never see the ball if he went to Ohio State. So Woody took him into an office, closed the door and spent a lot of time X-ing and O-ing. When they came out two hours later—zippo, that was it." Says Stuart, "It was the best time Woody ever spent."
Hayes had cause to doubt that when Archie, just turned 18 and yet to attend his first class at OSU, suited up for the opening game of the 1972 season under the new freshman-eligible rule, an amendment that Woody was scornful of at best. Sent in for one play against Iowa, Griffin bobbled a low pitchout, and the Buckeyes lost five yards. On the eve of the next game, against North Carolina, Archie says, "I got down on my knees and asked the Lord to give me a chance to play. I read the Bible too, especially the passage about 'Knock, and the door shall be opened.' "
Somebody up there liked him—namely Hubbard, who sat in the press box pleading with Hayes over the coaches' phone to put Archie in because "he's the best back we got." When Hayes refused, strong words were exchanged. Down seven points and with his offense continuing to falter, Hayes relented midway through the first quarter. Startled by the summons, Archie started to dash onto the field without his helmet, said a prayer of thanksgiving in the huddle and swept inside left end for six yards. Then he gained six more yards and six more to set the stage for the first of many stunners, a 32-yard bolt off tackle. Archie was knocking, and the door was opening.
The rest, as they say, is history, as Griffin followed with runs of 55 yards and 22 yards and 20 yards and 11 yards to threaten Ollie Cline's single-game Ohio State rushing record—229 yards—with one quarter to go. Three plays later Archie left the field to a standing ovation, and the announcement that the new record of 239 yards was his.
The next year Griffin became the first sophomore to be voted the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player, and as a junior he became only the second player (with Minnesota's Paul Giel) to win the honor twice. Now, with Heisman in hand, he stands ready to claim what may be the biggest first ever. Griffin goes into the 1975 season as a favorite to become the first player to win two Heismans. Margaret Griffin has a feeling that Archie will repeat. "When he was in high school," she says, "I saw it all in this dream. I saw Archie standing with the Heisman Trophy. I saw us standing beside him and all the people gathered around." Have there been sequels? "Well, I had the same dream more than once," she says, giving destiny a prod.
Whether Margaret Griffin's dream comes true or not, it seems certain Archie will keep running. James Jr. thinks that Archie Griffin will be a name to build a franchise around, a gate-builder whose contract could bring $2.3 million with one Heisman, $4 million with two. Archie will hear none of it. "My goal is the team's goal," he says, straightening his halo, "to win the national championship and go to the Rose Bowl for the fourth year in a row."
If and when depends in no small part on Archie's old roomie Cornelius Greene, the Buckeyes' second-leading rusher last season, with 842 yards. They are an odd couple, number 45 and number 7, a votary and a voluptuary who were shacked up with a monster stereo that almost blasted them and Gladys Knight and the Pips into orbit. Greene, who bills himself as Mr. Flamboyant and tools around in a 1975 Grand Prix with the license plates FLAM 7, claims, "Archie and I complement each other. I'm flashy; he's classy. When I first met Archie, he wore black shoes with everything. But now I got him shaped up. Now he's got red shoes, green shoes, all-color shoes."
What Greene got in return was religion. "When I wasn't starting right away," says the Flam, "I was very disappointed, very low. I'd sit there watching Kojak on TV and Archie'd be reading the Bible. It got to working on me, you know, and pretty soon he made me receive Jesus Christ into my life. I have found that being a quarterback under Woody Hayes, you need all the faith you can get."