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Why Archie Griffin is Ohio State’s ultimate game changer on and off the field

For over half a century, Archie has been the face of not only the football program, but the entire Ohio State University.

SB Nation team communities will deep dive into the stories of the iconic sports figures who are known to be some of the league’s biggest game-changers while highlighting the game-changing moments that gave them that title. Here’s Land-Grant Holy Land on Archie Griffin.

If you are an Ohio State fan who has attended some sort of university-related event over the past 50 years — a game, a fundraiser, an awards ceremony, a golf outing, etc. — chances are good that you have had the pleasure of coming into contact with Archie Griffin at least once. College football’s only two-time Heisman Trophy winner has been an irrepressible presence in and around Buckeye Nation since he first burst onto the scene as a freshman running back in 1972.

Griffin’s game-changing on-field accomplishments are the stuff of legend, but he has made just as much of an impact off the field as well. Archie has become an ambassador — either officially or unofficially — not only for the OSU football program but for the university as a whole. Having previously served as the president and CEO of The Ohio State University Alumni Association, as an assistant athletic director, and as OSU’s senior advisor for advancement, he has often been the person asked to speak at everything from local alumni club meetings to fancy high-dollar galas, and no matter the setting, Archie has been there with his beaming, trademark smile ready to greet fans and sign as many autographs as it takes to send everybody home happy.

If you look on eBay for items signed by Archie Griffin, you will see literal thousands of programs, jerseys, mini-helmets, and anything else fans have on hand to be signed by the two-time Heisman winner. As if OSU fans weren’t predisposed to loving him already, his generosity of time, energy, and personality have so endeared Archie to Buckeye Nation that he is at least as popular as Brutus himself, if not more so. And, considering that Brutus Buckeye never ran for 1,500 yards in a season, I might go ahead and give Archie the benefit of the doubt on this one.

During his career, Griffin rushed for 5,589, still the program record by a staggering 1,130 yards over the career total of J.K. Dobbins. His sophomore season — which he should have won his first Heisman Trophy for — ended with 1,577 rushing yards, which still ranks as the eighth-best mark in program history, despite the fact that Ohio State only played 11 games — including the Rose Bowl — in 1973. Griffin also still holds two of the top-10 single-game rushing performances in Buckeye history.

Considering how much college football has changed since the early 1970s, as players get bigger, faster, and stronger and the game has titled so in favor of offenses, it is remarkable that Archie’s numbers have withstood the test of time.

For whatever reason, Griffin’s name doesn’t get included nearly enough in the conversations of best college football running backs of all time alongside Barry Sanders, Bo Jackson, Tony Dorsett, Ricky Williams, and others — perhaps because his NFL career was not as illustrious as theirs — but the impact that he had on college football, and especially the Ohio State program, is immeasurable.

What better proof of that could there be than the fact that in the 2023 spring game, the Buckeyes got Archie in on the action, allowing him to not only don his legendary No. 45 jersey (which he is often wont to do), but to score one more touchdown in Ohio Stadium in front of an adoring crowd. For Buckeye fans of a certain age, it is hard to watch the joy on Griffin’s face and the love and appreciation that the team has for him without tearing up.

But Archie has changed the game in so many non-football ways as well; first and foremost through the Archie Griffin Scholarship Fund. Through his annual golf outing and year-round fundraising, the organization creates scholarship opportunities for high school Olympic sport athletes to attend The Ohio State University. Archie has also long been the spokesperson for Wendy’s Heisman High School Scholarship, combining two of Columbus’ most prized exports, Buckeye football and square hamburger patties.

Griffin’s commitment to not only Ohio State athletes but to the university’s academic message as well has allowed him to transcend the scope of football and become an integral part of every aspect of the university and the greater Columbus community as a whole.

There have been many fantastic running backs to wear the scarlet and gray in the half-century since Archie stepped on campus — Dobbins, Eddie George, Ezekiel Elliott, Keith Byars, Tim Spencer, etc. — but it is hard to imagine anyone ever having the impact both on and off the field that Archie Griffin has had, a true game-changer in every imaginable way.