Archie Griffin is the only player in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy twice.
Arguably the most famous Heisman Trophy winner in history, Griffin may also be the most popular member of college football’s most exclusive fraternity. “Archie is the godfather of the group,” said 1989 Heisman winner Andre Ware, “he is the standard.” The only two-time winner of college football’s most prestigious individual honor is beloved. “There’s a ton of respect for him,” observed 1992 recipient Gino Torretta. “He’s one of the humblest Heisman Trophy winners I’ve ever been around,” said former South Carolina running back George Rogers, who won the trophy in 1980. “He doesn’t say much, but when he does, everybody listens.”
The Ohio State University has been playing tackle football since 1890. During that time, the Buckeyes have won eight national championships, 37 Big Ten conference titles, and produced 83 consensus All-Americans. Archie Griffin is the only Buckeye to lead the team in rushing four straight seasons, and the only back in OSU history to gain over 1,000 yards three times. In four years at Ohio State, Griffin led the Bucks to a 40-5-1 record and four Big Ten titles between 1972 and 1975. Only 5’9” and 180 pounds, Griffin was small but had the heart of a lion. He is the first player in history to start in four consecutive Rose Bowl games [later matched by Brian Cushing] and was a three-time First Team All-American.
Griffin rushed for 5,589 yards in his brilliant career, finishing as the Big Ten’s all-time leading rusher [later surpassed by Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne in 1999]. Leading head coach Woody Hayes’ “ground and pound” running attack, he scored 26 touchdowns and averaged six yards per carry. Griffin rushed for 100 yards or more in 34 games, including 31 in a row – still an NCAA record. Griffin was one of the most decorated collegians of all time. As an upperclassman, he was a two-time recipient of the Walter Camp Award as well as being named Player of the Year by both Sporting News and UPI. He capped off his senior season by winning the 1975 Maxwell Award, presented annually to college football’s best player.
The Silver Football is awarded by the Chicago Tribune each Christmas Day to the Big Ten’s most valuable player. Griffin won it as a sophomore and again as a junior to become only the second player in history [Paul Giel, Minnesota, 1952-53] to win the award twice. He is perhaps the only Heisman Trophy winner in history not named MVP of his own team. In 1975, after leading the Buckeyes to an 11-0 record and number-one ranking, Griffin went to his teammates and said, “Look, I won that award in 1973. I won that award in 1974. You guys got to vote for Corny [Buckeyes quarterback Cornelius Greene]. He deserves to win it.” Greene won the MVP award by one vote – Griffin’s. Two weeks after Griffin was awarded his second straight Heisman Trophy, Greene was named recipient of the 1975 Silver Football.
Archie Mason Griffin was born to be a Buckeye. He entered the world 63 years ago today at the Ohio State University Hospital, just north of the Horseshoe. The middle brother in a family of seven boys, he was surrounded by athletes. Each of his brothers would play college football, and three would reach the NFL. Griffin grew up in Columbus. He attended Eastmoor High School, where he wrestled, ran track and played football. As a senior fullback in 1971, Griffin rushed for 1,787 yards and scored 29 touchdowns in 11 games to lead Eastmoor to the Columbus City League title game. Facing Linden-McKinley in the final game of his prep career, the diminutive slasher gained 267 yards on 31 carries to win the City League championship and was named All-State.
Heavily recruited by Northwestern, Navy and Michigan, Griffin was all but ignored by Ohio State, which rarely signed players from Columbus. Upon learning how much Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler wanted Griffin, Woody Hayes signed the talented running back to a scholarship, ensuring Griffin did not end up at “that school up North.”
Griffin fumbled on his first carry freshman year and was demoted to fifth string. He spent the following week on the scout team. Sent into the game by Hayes in week two against North Carolina, Griffin forgot his helmet. After a teammate ran it out to him, Griffin composed himself, then ran for a school-record 239 yards. The following season, Griffin broke his own single-game record, rumbling for 246 yards against Iowa. He finished fifth in Heisman Trophy balloting, three spots behind teammate John Hicks, who finished runner-up to Penn State’s John Cappelletti. Hicks remains the top vote-getting offensive lineman in Heisman history. After setting an Ohio State single-season rushing record with 1,577 yards [and outgaining Cappelletti on the season] as a sophomore, Griffin was named All-America.
In 1974, Griffin scooted for 1,620 yards to break his OSU single season rushing record. He became the fourth Buckeye in history to win the Heisman, beating USC’s Anthony Davis and Oklahoma’s Joe Washington in a landslide. The following year, Griffin broke Ed Marinaro’s NCAA career rushing record in the seventh game of the season, a 35-6 trouncing of Purdue. The Bucks finished the conference slate with a perfect record and Griffin out-pointed Chuck Muncie of Cal and USC’s Rickey Bell to become the only two-time Heisman winner in history, a distinction that will likely never be matched, as players today leave college early for the riches of the NFL. Griffin graduated OSU early, earning a degree in industrial relations. Despite never attending college, James and Margaret Griffin made sure their children did, as all eight earned degrees. In 1975, Archie received the Top Five Award — the highest honor the NCAA can bestow – for combined excellence in athletics, academics and leadership.
The 24th overall pick of the 1976 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, Griffin was mediocre as a pro. In seven seasons in the Queen City, he gained 2,808 yards on 691 attempts, averaging just over four yards per carry. After a brief stint with the Jacksonville Bulls of the USFL, Griffin retired in 1984.
After stepping away from football, Griffin returned to OSU, where he served as associate director of athletics for 20 years. In 2004, he accepted a position as president and CEO of the OSU Alumni Association, an international network of over 500,000 Buckeyes. In 2015, he announced he was cutting back his workload with the Alumni Association but would continue to serve the university. Mr. Griffin was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986. A decade later, he was enshrined into the High School Sports Hall of Fame. in 1999, Ohio State retired his number 45, and Eastmoor renamed their playing field “Archie Griffin Field.” A member of ESPN’s Top 25 Players in College Football History list, Griffin was named the All-Century Player of the Rose Bowl at the event’s centennial celebration in 2014.