clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ohio State great Archie Griffin on what he looks for in a Heisman candidate, Woody Hayes, and more

We had a chance to chat with an Ohio State legend

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Archie Griffin is Ohio State Football. It's amazing that a single player can be the undisputed focal point of a football program that has been around for 125 years, but with Archie, this is the case.

The two Heisman Trophy awards are what pop off the page when you look at Griffin's career accomplishments. What these Heisman's do not show, is the unwavering commitment Griffin has shown to the Ohio State University ever since enrolling in 1972.

I got a chance to speak with Archie over the phone, and was truly blown away by his unselfishness, love of the game, and fairness he has exhibited throughout his career at every stop, on and off the field.

*All quotes in italics are directly from Archie Griffin himself

Unselfishness

Three yards and a cloud of dust. The phrase has lost its lure in recent years as more and more coaches have taken after Urban Meyer and said, "Three yards and a cloud of dust is great, but why not six yards and a cloud of dust?" But this phrase was what Ohio State football was all about in the 1960s.

"Woody used to call that T-Formation the Robust formation, and he was known for that, and that's where that three yards and a cloud of dust got started."

The T-Formation was Ohio State's bread and butter in the 1960s. A fullback lined up directly behind the quarterback, flanked by two running backs, who themselves were lined up directly behind the offensive guards. With this alignment comes not great vision for the running backs (as they are only lined up a few yards behind the offensive line), but the formation itself provides an attitude of power and toughness for the offense, which allowed Ohio State to continuously succeed in running the football throughout the 1960s. This is what made Ohio State's switch from the T-Formation to the I-Formation in 1973 so surprising.

"I think Coach Hayes and the staff realized you could get a lot done when you have someone sitting in the top of that "I", and has a chance to really view the field."

With the switch to the I-Formation, there was no stopping Griffin. Having had a successful freshman season upon seizing the starting running back position, Griffin exploded in his sophomore and junior years averaging 1,690 total yards and 10 touchdowns from scrimmage. The biggest change from his freshman season was the increase in efficiency, as Griffin's already high 5.5 yards per carry average bumped up to 6.5 yards per carry with the help of the I-Formation.

"Unfortunately Champ Henson got hurt my sophomore year, he was my fullback...so when he got hurt Pete Johnson (Ohio State's all-time rushing touchdown leader with 56) was just a freshman, so while Pete got adjusted to the position as a freshman, we went to that I-Formation quite often and that's when I guess I really started taking off."

This adjustment by head coach Woody Hayes based on the Buckeyes personnel was genius and largely responsible for Griffin's first Heisman trophy. However, Hayes continued sticking to his roots with the Buckeyes' offense, and come 1975, Johnson was ready to take on a bigger role.

"Now, the Robust formation was still very important to Woody, because he would always go to that anytime we would have short yardage or goal line. That's why you would always see that Ohio State's fullback would lead the country in scoring."

And lead the country in scoring he did. In Griffin's second Heisman campaign in 1975 his touchdown total dipped from 12 to just four. Four touchdowns for a Heisman winner? Yeah, but his fullback had 25! Griffin was named the greatest player in the country as a junior, and as a senior, he was relegated to what was essentially a two running back system (Griffin had 262 carries, Johnson had 227). How did Griffin respond?

"It was clear that it was my job to move the ball down the field, and we'd get there and the fullback would get the touchdowns. Everybody had their responsibilities. Me and Brian Baschnagel (other Ohio State running back) would be blocking at the halfback spots and the fullback would score the touchdowns."

In this day and age we have Heisman winners defined by crab legs and money phones. The mere notion that a Heisman winner in today's game would willingly sacrifice carries and touchdowns for the success of his team is ludicrous, but with Griffin it shouldn't be that surprising. Keep in mind this is the guy who won the Heisman in 1975, but lost his own team's MVP award by one vote, his own vote, as Griffin reportedly told the rest of his teammates that Buckeyes' quarterback Corny Greene deserved the award since Griffin had already won it two straight years.

Love of the Game

Sports Illustrated writer Andrew Lawrence did a fantastic story this week on the old All-Star Football Classic. Basically, from the 1930s to the 1970s, a group of college all-stars would play the defending Super Bowl champions in an exhibition game. The game has since been discontinued for obvious reasons (injury risk, contracts, pros being way better than college kids), but Griffin was lucky enough to be a participant in the games last edition in 1975.

"What I do remember about that game is they cancelled the game (at halftime) after a big, big storm came through. Thank goodness they cancelled it because the Pittsburgh Steelers were whipping our tails."

The fact Griffin and the rest of the college all-stars were having a tough time having any sort of success against the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers is not a surprise. What is a surprise, is the way in which Griffin played in this game.

"I was getting ready to go pro, it was kind of funny, I had actually pulled my hamstring working out for the Bengals that year, but I still played in the game a little bit."

NFL and college players alike play through plenty of pain. But a pulled hamstring? In an exhibition against the best defense in the world? I'm not sure if Griffin refusing to sit out with what is one of the most prohibitive injuries a running back can have is crazy or admirable, but there is no denying Griffin's heart after hearing that. As for the game, how did it go?

"I do remember running the ball one time and L.C. Greenwood tackled me, he said "Tell Ara (Ara Parseghian, Notre Dame and college all-star coach at the time) to take that shit back to college" and I just had to break out laughing."

Commitment to Excellence

Griffin has spent much of his time since playing in the League as the CEO and President of Ohio State's Alumni Association, a post he's since resigned, but as a Heisman winner Griffin is also a Heisman voter (he only gets one vote, unfortunately). Some Buckeye fans have taken issue with Derrick Henry receiving the Heisman nod over Ezekiel Elliott, due to Henry having 316 more yards than Elliot, but on 77 (about three games worth) more carries. How does Griffin keep in mind both bulk production and efficiency as a Heisman voter?

"I try to balance it. I look at the big picture and that is how efficient you are. Sometimes I'll translate 40 carries for Ezekiel Elliot or somebody like that and see what he's averaging...he'd gain 280 yards. At the same time, you got to say if a guy can carry to ball 40 or 45 times a game, he is one heck of a player, cause that is putting a lot on his plate."

Griffin attempting to be fair and all-inclusive in his Heisman voting can also be seen in his work as the Wendy's High School Heisman award spokesman. The Wendy's High School Heisman award has honored more than 600,000 of the nation's most esteemed high school seniors since 1994, and Griffin is more than excited about the future of program.

"I want to continue to get thousands of high school seniors to apply for the awards. We want to make sure high school seniors are being recognized for all the great things they've been doing. We just figured the more people that recognize the fact that the Wendy's High School Heisman involved community service and things of that sort the better society we are going to be."

With so many Buckeye heroes out there, it's incredibly refreshing to have one present and still willing to serve his community in the way that Griffin has made a habit of doing ever since joining The Ohio State University. From gladly giving up touchdowns to his teammates, to playing in a meaningless game with a pulled hamstring, Griffin has always looked out for others his entire career.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to be a part of this Columbus community that Griffin has helped make every step of the way, and I think I speak for all of Columbus when I say Archie Griffin, thank you.