COLUMBUS, Ohio – In December of 1975, Archie Griffin had helped the Ohio State Buckeyes earn a spot in the Rose Bowl for the fourth straight year, finished with 1,450 yards rushing and been named the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player. His spot in Ohio State and Big Ten history was secure.
But then, on December 2, 1975, he reached college football immortality.
Griffin, who had won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 1974 after rushing for nearly 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns, heard his named called again as the winner of the sport’s top individual award. And forty-five years later, Griffin is still the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner.
“I was fortunate to be part of a special group of people and a great university that made it possible for me to do it twice,” said Griffin. “I am so very thankful for my time at Ohio State.”
Griffin’s legendary career at Ohio State is full of individual awards and accomplishments. But for anyone that knows “Arch”, he’s most proud of what his team accomplished: four straight trips to the Rose Bowl, three wins over Michigan and a combined record of 40-5-1.
His list of individual accomplishments is extensive – simply, there wasn’t an award that Griffin didn’t win during his time at Ohio State. In addition to the two Heisman Trophies, he was a three-time All-American, two-time winner of the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player and the 1974 and 1975 UPI National Player of the Year. But it was who Griffin was off the field – kind, humble, caring and patient – to lead his coach – the legendary Woody Hayes – to famously say of Griffin, “He’s a better young man than he is a football player, and he’s the best football player I’ve ever seen.”
Griffin’s numbers more than back up that claim. At the time his career finished in 1975, Griffin was the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher with 5,589 yards, which is still the Ohio State standard. Perhaps even more impressive was his consistency – he set the NCAA record with 31 consecutive games with 100 or more yards rushing, a record that still stands today.
For Griffin, his path to stardom wasn’t a straight one. A Columbus native and graduate of Eastmore High School, Griffin was strongly considering attending Northwestern before Hayes came to visit him in 1972. The conversation wasn’t about football, but instead mostly about academics and what he wanted to accomplish off the field. Griffin put on a Buckeye uniform for the first time of September 16, 1972 and the result was ominous: his only carry of the game resulted in a fumble.
Two weeks later against North Carolina, Hayes and the Ohio State coaches gave Griffin another shot. And he ran with it – literally. Griffin broke a team record that had stood for 27 seasons when he rushed for 239 yards. He had officially introduced himself to Buckeye Nation and college football and the rest was history.
The four decades following his Ohio State career would be full of achievement and accolades for the only player to ever start in four Rose Bowl Games and who was president and CEO of the Ohio State Alumni Association from 2004 to 2015. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986. In 2006 he was named one of the NCAA’s “100 Most Influential Student-Athletes”. In 2011 he was the first recipient of the Big Ten’s Ford-Kinnick Leadership Award. In 2013 he was named the Rose Bowl’s “All-Century” Player. Griffin’s name, along with that of Red Grange, graces the Big Ten championship game MVP award. Ohio State retired his jersey number “45” on Oct. 30, 1999.
Griffin also is a living example of what his coach, Woody Hayes, meant when he talked about “paying forward.” It was Hayes who instilled in his players the importance of giving back with your time, talent and treasure. And that’s exactly what Griffin has done: his many community leadership activities led him to create the Archie Griffin Scholarship Fund, which benefits Ohio State’s Olympic sports programs.
Simply put, it easy to see why Griffin is still regarded as one of the all-time great players in college football history. But it’s equally easy to see why he’s regarded as a first-class person and representative of Ohio State.