Jeff’s Weekly Sports Rapp: A Conversation With Archie
By Jeff Rapp
(Editor’s Note: Jeff Rapp has covered Ohio State athletics since he graduated from the university more than 20 years ago. He currently serves as a voting member of the Heisman Trophy Trust and is a longstanding member of the Football Writers Association of America and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association).
Archie Griffin’s resume is vast, his accomplishments are almost too numerous to mention, and his impact on the Ohio State football program is beyond compare and quantification.
He played tailback in one of the most glorious eras of the program, leading the Buckeyes to four-straight Rose Bowl appearances during the 1972-75 seasons, and he was the best player for the most accomplished coach in OSU history, Woody Hayes.
For the last 37 years – since December 1975 – the 58-year-old Griffin has been able to carry himself as “college football’s only two-time Heisman Trophy winner,” ever since he earned the prestigious award back-to-back as a junior and senior. Griffin, of course, is a voting member of the Heisman Trophy Trust – and, no, he does not get to cast two ballots, in case you are wondering.
If there were a Mount Rushmore of Ohio State football, Griffin most certainly would be on it and is perhaps the only living member as his likeness no doubt would sit next to that of Hayes, Chic Harley, and … well, take your pick of other greats of the past.
Griffin rushed for a career total of 5,589 yards on 924 carries in his four seasons at OSU, the total an NCAA record at the time and still tops in school history. He’s one of two players to start in four Rose Bowls and carried the mail for OSU teams that combined to post a mark of 40-5-1.
Griffin’s legend grew quickly. He set the school single-game record as a freshman with 239 yards rushing vs. North Carolina. He went on to rush for more than 100 yards on 34 occasions, including an NCAA record 31-consecutive times. A rare three-time All-American, Griffin also won the Chicago Tribune Silver Football award as the Big Ten MVP twice and would have won it a third time if he hadn’t voted for his quarterback and best friend, Cornelius Green, for team MVP in 1975. Green became OSU’s entry and won the Silver Football that year.
Griffin was enshrined in the Ohio State Varsity ‘O’ Hall of Fame in 1981, the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986, the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1990, and his alma mater officially retired his famous No. 45 in 1999.
Even though Griffin played several years for the Cincinnati Bengals, he quickly returned to his hometown and his home school where he and a couple of his brothers played. He earned an MBA and became a longtime Ohio State department of athletics administrator before accepting his current post as the president and CEO of The Ohio State University Alumni Association.
Among his many other involvements, Griffin also serves as spokesman for the Wendy’s High School Heisman award program.
But on top of all of that, Griffin is the quintessential nice guy. And I banked on that cordial persona when I reached Archie via cell phone on Wednesday morning to discuss various topical subjects with him, including Saturday’s presentation of the 2012 Heisman Trophy.
Turns out Griffin already was in New York City for that event and others on his plate. It also turns out he’s still the same warm and pleasant conversationalist and college football icon he always was.
The following is my exclusive interview with Columbus’ native son, Archie Griffin:
Rapp: So are you in New York for the (Heisman) dinner that’s upcoming?
Griffin: I was here last night for the College Football Hall of Fame inductions and also at a luncheon yesterday as well. I’m here the rest of the week pretty much for the Heisman stuff and the Wendy’s High School Heisman stuff.
Rapp: Yeah, this is kind of an annual week of your time. Is this something you enjoy or has it become mundane in any way?
Griffin: No, I really do enjoy it. It’s a great time. Sitting on the board for the College Football Foundation and at the College Football Hall of Fame I get the opportunity to hand out the plaques to the inductees. And it’s a great deal of fun seeing all the guys come back who are being inducted into the Hall of Fame. There are really some great names.
Rapp: Speaking of Hall of Famers I’m sure you heard about the Eddie George news, in fact, I’m sure that you were involved with that. I know you’ve mentored Eddie for a while. With him being kind of an ambassador for the university, which is a role you know well, what is your reaction to that and how do you think Eddie will do with that?
Griffin: I’m very happy with that. Eddie and I actually were together yesterday at lunch here in New York and Eddie did a great job with our alums and supporters here in New York City. I think that’s a great addition to The Ohio State University.
Rapp: You guys are obviously Heisman voters, I’ve been a Heisman voter, and we’re not supposed to blab and tell everybody whom we’ve voted for yet …
Rapp: Still, we Heisman voters tend to do that.
Griffin: I don’t. I don’t tell who I voted for. I really don’t. I pretty much made that a policy, and mostly because they ask you not to do it. I know a lot of people still do it. But it will be another year where it’s going to be interesting.
There are a lot of differences this year when you think of the fact that there’s a guy who’s a freshman who could possibly win it (Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel) and a guy who’s a total defensive player who could possibly win it (Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o). So it’s going to be interesting. We’ll see what happens with it this year.
Rapp: It will definitely be landmark. I guess the obvious question is if it’s the freshman as the straw polls indicate, that sets up here we go again with another person who would have a very good chance to be a two-time winner.
I want to get this on the record from you because I think people would be surprised with your answer, but you’ve carried around that label for a long, long time. What do you think if a freshman wins and there’s immediate talk of him being a two-time winner. What would your reaction to that be?
Griffin: I don’t have a problem with that. I think if a guy has a season that’s deserving of a Heisman and they get the votes, they should win it. Certainly, if people come back and win it again, I don’t have a problem with that, either. I’ve always said there’s going to be somebody who wins it two times and maybe even somebody that wins it three times.
If Johnny Football has the opportunity to win it three times, that would be great. It’s very difficult to do, obviously, and it’s one of those situations where he’s got to be ready for what’s ahead of him if he happens to win it this year, because you start getting a whole, whole lot of attention.
Rapp: Well, if he becomes a multiple winner he’s got the right nickname already. Right?
Griffin: Exactly. Jeff, you know I don’t have a problem with anybody winning it twice. I always felt if I did it there’s somebody out there who can do it. That doesn’t bother me at all.
Rapp: I remember you telling me a while ago that when Jason White had already won the award that you voted for him again, which is proof of that. Do you remember ever doing that for anybody else? (Tim) Tebow maybe?
Griffin: Um, I answered that before but, again, I don’t like to tell.
Rapp: Boy, you are good.
Rapp: Even though Braxton (Miller) didn’t get invited, it looks like there’s a chance he could finish in the top five, which would be good company for him.
Griffin: I expect him to finish in the top five, by the way. There’s no question in my mind he could do that.
Rapp: I think he will, too. And that’s quite a list of guys who have done that. You did that your sophomore year. What can that do for him? Can the Heisman get in your head or is this a really good carrot for a kid like him at his current state of development?
Griffin: I think it’s a good carrot for him, Jeff. I think this gives him an idea of what it takes to be on the top, and I just think it’s going to motivate him to improve his skills and get better each and every day. And I know that his coaches will certainly be pushing him to do that, to get better each and every day. And if he takes care of that, the rest of it will take care of itself.
Rapp: What do you see with where he can get to? Urban (Meyer) had a quote at the end of the year where he said it could be “comical” how good he could become if he develops fundamentally and things like that. Where do you see him going and how can he reach that Heisman pinnacle?
Griffin: I know that he’s a young man who’s willing to work very, very hard. He’s a student of the game. And I think that improvement is going to come – and with that improvement it could take him to being an All-American and a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He’s already sitting, in my opinion, in the top five right now. With just a little bit more development, the sky is the limit, really.
Think of the things he can do. His running is superb and with a little bit more development with the passing game, the sky is the limit. And the sky is the limit also with this team being led by him, especially when you have the combination running game I feel like we’ve got now.
Rapp: So have you spoken with him recently or during the year just in terms of his focus or any tips you’ve ever given him?
Griffin: I had a chance to speak with him last week at the Big Ten Championship Game and I’ve just been talking to him in passing, but we really didn’t talk a whole lot about football or anything like that. He’s a good young man, and I like what he’s doing. I like his work ethic and I like how he’s approaching the game.
Rapp: We had Corny Green on WTVN with us this year and I always love talking to him. And I’m wondering, have you guys been teasing him about Braxton breaking all of his rushing records?
Griffin: (Laughing) No, we really haven’t. But he’s had those records for a long, long time – so it’s about time. Corny was one of those fabulous runners. He was one of those guys who was extremely slippery like Braxton, and he had moves that were similar. That was a while back and people don’t remember that, but nobody ever got a good shot on Corny Green.
Rapp: Did you ever feel sorry for a defender knowing, “Uh-oh, he’s going to juke this guy?”
Griffin: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. We’d be in film session and we’d just get a chuckle watching guys missing Corny. They’d think they had a clear shot on him but all of a sudden he’d slip the tackle or something like that. They’d maybe bring him down but he never really took a hard shot. They’d think they had a free shot at him but they never really got him. He was just that slippery. That’s why they called him “Flam.”
Rapp: I know. I love the guy. I know he really wanted to come to the 1972 reunion but couldn’t because he’s coaching basketball. I’m sure you talked to him.
Rapp: How about Darrell Hazell. He’s somebody I’m sure you got to know a little bit. There’s some more shake-up with the Big Ten. Just talk about what you see with the changes in the league and specifically how Darrell may do at Purdue.
Griffin: OK. Did he accept that?
Rapp: I don’t know that it’s absolutely official but there are credible reports out there right now that it’s done.
Griffin: OK. I didn’t know that. I had heard the talk about that. But Darrell’s had great success at Kent State and you could tell even when he was here that he was on the rise. So it does not surprise me at all that he’s getting those types of opportunities. He was an outstanding coach for Kent State this year and I expect he’ll do a great job wherever he goes.
Rapp: Then the very last one: Just what does it do to your heart to see Ohio State have the year it had under the circumstances and to go undefeated?
Griffin: I feel absolutely great about that. I think that this was a marvelous year for the Buckeyes, remarkable to go 12-0. That’s so hard to do, Jeff. I don’t know if people really realize how hard that is to do. Only five other (Ohio State) teams have really done that. A lot of teams like our ’73 team did it, but we had a tie. That was in the days when you didn’t have the tiebreakers and overtime and things of that sort.
But this team went totally undefeated and they overcame every challenge that they had to overcome. To me, that makes for a remarkable season and it sets up next season, as far as I’m concerned, because now a lot of those guys really, really have something to shoot for next year.
But I don’t discount this season. It was truly remarkable and this is the type of season that will go down in history. And I know that it will probably have an asterisk saying that they didn’t go to a bowl game and dah-dah-dah-dah-dah. But 12-0, unbelievable.
*This is the latest installment of Jeff Rapp’s Weekly Sports Rapp on The-Ozone.net. He is a regular voice on 610 WTVN in Columbus and long-time reporter covering the Buckeyes. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out more of Jeff’s work on SportsRappUp.com.