Archie Griffin was tailor-made to be a running back.
At 5’9” and 190 pounds, he was tough and elusive and racked up huge yardage in high school and college.
Griffin was so good at Ohio State University that he became the first, and still only, two-time Heisman Trophy winner.
The @Bengals were established in 1967.
Former 2x Heisman winner and Bengals great Archie Griffin said it best:
"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog." pic.twitter.com/7fUU7XsZlw
— Kendal Steele 🏟⚖️ (@K_Steele1) February 13, 2022
A first-round NFL draft pick, Griffin never did pan out as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Although his professional football career didn’t amount to much, his career as a businessman has been a success.
This is the story of Archie Griffin.
A Football Family
Archie Mason Griffin was born on August 21, 1954, in Columbus, Ohio at Ohio State University Hospital.
“He’s a better young man than he is a football player, and he’s the best football player I’ve ever seen.” – Woody Hayes on Archie Griffin. pic.twitter.com/bEfzlgT2yT
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) August 21, 2020
He was one of eight Griffin children, born into a tight-knit family of athletes.
Archie’s father, James, played guard as a football player and boxed before working in the coal mines of West Virginia.
Three of Archie’s older brothers played football and would matriculate to play the sport at the college level.
Griffin’s younger brother, Ray, would also play football.
Before Archie was born, the Griffin family moved to Columbus, where James worked three jobs.
Despite the fact that he frequently worked 20-hour days, James Griffin made time to travel and watch his boys.
Initially, Archie played football for fun while also gorging on candy from a family-run grocery store.
As he grew, Griffin became known as “Tank” due to his size and clumsy gait on the field.
Wanting to be like his older brothers, Griffin quit consuming candy bars and instead focused on getting in shape.
Beginning in middle school, Griffin began a workout plan that included running to his school and back, lifting weights with a makeshift weight set, and doing sit-ups and jumping jacks.
Once he became slim and trim, Griffin joined his school’s track team as a member of the 440 and 880 relay teams.
At the same time, he began playing fullback for the football team and displayed a knack for the position.
Shortly after arriving at Eastmoor High School, Griffin asked head football coach, Bob Stuart, a question.
“Archie walked on the field and asked what he had to do to play first string,” said Stuart. “He was ready to play right there. He started as a sophomore, and by his final year he was just scary. I can never remember one man tackling him; you had to bring folks. Heck, Archie played the last three games with a broken bone in his foot, and they still couldn’t catch him.”
Griffin’s sophomore year was highlighted by a 75-yard score in his second game as a starter.
As a junior, Griffin toted the rock for over 1,000 yards.
Then, during his senior year, Griffin blew the doors off opponents by averaging over seven yards per carry and running for 1,787 yards and 29 touchdowns.
“We used to sit and pray for him to get someone in a one-on-one situation, Archie would beat the guy every time,” Stuart said. “On top of all that, he had a ton of courage. That’s something you can never measure in a person, but it stuck out all over on him.”
After a 9-1 season, Eastmoor advanced to the city championship where Griffin dashed for another 267 yards, leading the Warriors to the city title.
Forty years ago, a former Eastmoor High School and Ohio State University graduate, Archie Griffin, competed for the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI (16) and has much to share about his experience before and after the world was watching. #OurCCS
— Columbus City Schools (@ColsCitySchools) February 11, 2022
He was then named Player of the Year for Ohio.
Five Star Recruit
Playing in a football-mad state like Ohio led to national attention as Griffin’s 3,382-yard and 47-touchdown prep career came to a close.
He received over 150 recruiting offers from every corner of the country.
Griffin wanted to play close to home, but he also wanted to go somewhere he could play immediately.
Northwestern was on his radar as well as Navy, Louisville, and Michigan.
Ohio State University was practically in the Griffins’ backyard, but they were unsure of the fit between Archie and Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes.
However, Hayes wasn’t about to miss out on the state’s hottest recruit.
— The Sporting News Archives (@sportsphotos) May 26, 2016
The coach pulled out all the stops to get Griffin and assure him he would do well at OSU.
“Woody was messing around with the wishbone back then,” Stuart recalls, “and Archie was afraid he’d never see the ball if he went to Ohio State. So Woody took him into an office, closed the door and spent a lot of time X-ing and O-ing. When they came out two hours later—zippo, that was it.”
It also helped that Hayes reminded Griffin of what the Buckeyes could provide for him.
Hayes said, “I told Archie that he’d play better for us because he’d get better blocking. That’s pretty obvious. We can block, you know.”
The Griffin family liked Hayes and his wife, who assisted in the recruiting, and Archie finally picked OSU.
“If I went anywhere but Ohio State, my mommy would die,” said Griffin.
Griffin Starts As A Freshman
Griffin became a college athlete at the perfect time.
He arrived on campus in 1972, the same year that the NCAA allowed freshmen to play varsity basketball and football for the first time.
Hayes, however, was an old-school coach and listed Griffin as a backup to begin the season, believing that upperclassmen should start.
By the second game of the year against the North Carolina Tar Heels, even Hayes’ assistants were questioning his decision.
The Heels struck the first blow and were ahead 7-0 with the OSU offense sputtering.
Seeing the writing on the wall, Hayes turned and summoned Griffin into the game.
After nearly running onto the field without a helmet, Griffin settled his nerves with a quick prayer then set about torching the ‘Heels.
In barely three quarters of work, Griffin set a program record with 239 yards and a touchdown to boot.
Archie Griffin debuted for the Buckeyes today in 1972. In his second game that season, he would set the team's then-single game rushing record (239 yards).
Pay homage. pic.twitter.com/7MwWZH1crk
— HOMAGE (@HOMAGE) October 1, 2019
When he exited the game for the final time, Griffin was met with a standing ovation from the OSU faithful.
“It was one of the most incredible sights of my life,” Griffin said. “Amazing how your life can change in a day, from sunup to sundown.”
Hayes didn’t need any more convincing, and Griffin remained his starting tailback for the remainder of the ‘72 season.
The Buckeyes would finish the season 9-2 including a loss to top-ranked USC in the Rose Bowl.
Griffin ended his freshman season with 867 rushing yards and three scores.
Griffin was just getting started.
In 1973, he led the country with 1,577 yards and added eight total touchdowns.
Even more soul-crushing for opponents, Griffin only got better as the season wore on.
“In the face of adversity, you find out if you’re a fighter or a quitter. It’s all about getting up after you’ve been knocked down.” Archie Griffin pic.twitter.com/H7ZkZtXiL5
— Mack Brown (@CoachMackBrown) November 3, 2018
Against fourth-ranked Michigan in the penultimate game of the year, Griffin pounded the Wolverines for 163 yards.
Then, in the Rose Bowl against seventh-ranked USC, Griffin tallied 147 yards to help OSU to a 42-21 win.
During the college awards season, Griffin was named the Big Ten’s MVP and was selected as a first-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten.
He also finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
With two conference championships in the past two years, Ohio State was ready to try for a third in 1974.
— Ohio State Alumni (@OhioStateAlumni) July 9, 2015
The team was cruising until they hit a speed bump against Michigan State on November 9 when the Spartans defeated number one OSU by three.
Meanwhile, Griffin kept piling up huge numbers.
During the ‘74 season, he continued rushing for at least 100 yards in each game, a streak he started as a sophomore.
Griffin also led the nation again in rushing with 1,695 yards and 12 touchdowns.
By that time, Hayes couldn’t contain his glee about coaching arguably the nation’s best college player.
“Archie Griffin is the greatest back I’ve ever seen or coached,” Hayes said.
When interviewed about his amazing year, the always humble Griffin deflected praise and made sure to acknowledge his teammates.
“Can you make sure you put something about my (offensive) line in there,” Griffin asked a reporter. “I have no problem getting through the holes the line opens up. All I have to do is run.”
Opposing coaches were baffled by Griffin’s running ability, fueled in part by strong legs as well as outstanding field vision.
“He has unbelievable peripheral vision,” commented University of Indiana coach Lee Corso. “I saw him go through a hole in our line that wasn’t there. It was an off tackle to the left. You could see the hole develop, but then three of our men played it perfectly and closed it up. Griffin suddenly got through for 12 yards. It was one of the greatest runs I’ve ever seen.”
OSU ended its season as Big Ten co-champion and a loss in the Rose Bowl against USC.
Despite the setback, Griffin was voted conference MVP for the second time (one of three players to win the award twice) and was honored as a first-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten Conference.
#OnThisDay this day in 1974, legendary #OhioState University running back Archie Griffin won the Heisman Trophy. He won his second Heisman a year later, and remains the only college player to ever win it twice. pic.twitter.com/tqdfCFf4gF
— Ohio History Connection (@OhioHistory) December 27, 2020
Better yet, he received the majority of ballots to become the 1974 Heisman Trophy winner.
Additionally, Griffin was the UPI and Sporting News’ Player of the Year and Walter Camp Award winner.
History is Made
Entering the 1975 season, there were those in the media that believed Griffin had already won a Heisman Trophy and that the award should be given to someone else.
After all, no one had won the coveted award more than once, so why start now?
Griffin then proceeded to run for 1,450 yards and four rushing scores and added 170 receiving yards.
The Buckeyes had college football’s best backfield that year as junior Pete Johnson had over 1,000 yards himself.
Going into the Rose Bowl for the fourth straight year, OSU was undefeated and ranked first in the nation.
They were Big Ten champions and only had to defeat UCLA to win the national title.
That didn’t happen, and the Bruins upset Griffin (playing in an unprecedented fourth Rose Bowl) and the Buckeyes 23-10.
Despite their reservations, the Heisman voters couldn’t ignore the stats and Griffin became the first player in college history to win the award twice.
On this date in 1975, @OhioStateFB running back Archie Griffin won the Heisman for the second straight year.
He remains to this date the only player to ever win the award twice. pic.twitter.com/xwoScwBtue
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 2, 2020
He also received his third straight first-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten nods as well as a second UPI and Sporting News Player of the Year Awards, a second Walter Camp Award, and the Maxwell Award as the best college player.
Griffin received the Chicago Tribune Silver Football Award twice while at OSU and was the recipient of the NCAA Top Five Award as a senior, given to the player who exudes excellence in academics, athletics, and leadership.
For his career, Griffin had 5,589 total yards, 26 rushing touchdowns, 350 receiving yards, and another score.
He was college football’s all-time rushing yards leader until Pitt’s Tony Dorsett broke the record in 1976.
Griffin still owns the NCAA record of 31 consecutive games with over 100 yards rushing.
@OhioStateFB RB Archie Griffin, might’ve been the best to don #45. He set an NCAA record of 31 consecutive regular season games with 100 or more rushing yards. He is also the only player to receive the Heisman Trophy twice (1974-75). #ImARealFan #45daysuntilCFB pic.twitter.com/KefYf1bFMh
— College Football Hall of Fame (@cfbhall) July 10, 2019
Since leaving OSU, Griffin has been added to the program’s Varsity O Hall of Fame, had his number 45 retired by the university (the first for a Buckeye athlete), been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1986, and been inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1990.
“There are a lot of places that mean a lot to me, but Ohio Stadium was huge for me because of the way things happened and the magnitude of being in this place and playing in front of 80-some-thousand people,” said Griffin in 2022.
Griffin Becomes a Bengal
It’s rare that a pro athlete can play his entire sports career in the same state.
Griffin played high school and college ball in Ohio and remained there when the Cincinnati Bengals made him the 24th overall pick of the first round in the 1976 NFL Draft.
April 8, 1976 – Paul Brown announces that the Bengals have selected the only 2-time Heisman Trophy winner, RB Archie Griffin.
This Day In Bengals History, Geoff Hobson pic.twitter.com/Jc6ParL4bA
— 𝗕𝗲𝗻𝗴𝗮𝗹𝘀𝗖𝗮𝗽𝘁𝗮𝗶𝗻 🐯⚓ (@BengalsCaptain) April 9, 2020
Team owner Paul Brown wanted to add Griffin to a Bengal’s offense led by quarterback Ken Anderson.
Cincinnati lost to the Oakland Raiders in the 1975 postseason by three points, and it took three Bengals running backs combined to rush for 1,277 yards that same year.
A better running game, in theory, would help Cincy get further in the playoffs and possibly land a trip to the Super Bowl.
As a rookie, Griffin started all 14 games but had difficulty on the gridiron for the first time in his life.
In 1976, he rushed for just 625 yards and three touchdowns as the Bengals ended the year 10-4 and missed the playoffs.
Archie Griffin pounds the rock for the Cincinnati Bengals against the Vikings. pic.twitter.com/FinEA0IX7C
— SportsPaper (@SportsPaperInfo) June 11, 2015
The following year, Cincinnati selected Griffin’s former OSU teammate, Pete Johnson, in the second round of the 1977 draft.
Cincy’s win total would fall to eight, and Griffin had 549 yards and failed to find the end zone.
The Bengals stumbled with two coaches in 1978 when Bill Johnson was fired after an 0-5 start and Homer Rice went 4-7 the rest of the way.
Griffin’s brother, Ray, was selected by the Bengals with the 35th pick in the second round, reuniting the brothers who had also played together in college.
Archie Griffin was kept from scoring a rushing touchdown again in ‘78 while running for 484 yards.
He did have three receiving touchdowns.
Cincy Reaches the Super Bowl While Griffin Watches
In 1979, Griffin had his best output as a pro when he totaled 688 yards with two receiving scores.
— NFL Legends (@NFLLegends) July 3, 2017
He also had a career-high 417 receiving yards.
Johnson outgained his backfield mate in 1980 with 747 yards and seven total scores to 260 yards and no rushing touchdowns (for the fourth straight year).
It didn’t help that Griffin sustained an Achilles injury partway through the season.
1981 would be a success story for the Bengals as second-year coach Forrest Gregg guided the team to a 12-4 record and wins against Buffalo and San Diego in the playoffs.
Sure enough, Cincy was realizing its dream of reaching the promised land, except Archie Griffin didn’t take them there.
Delegated to backup duty, Griffin barely saw the field during the Bengals’ run to Super Bowl XVI.
He started two games and ran for 163 yards and three touchdowns.
Johnson outgained him again and rushed for 1,077 yards and 16 total touchdowns.
During the Super Bowl, Griffin received one carry for four yards.
In 1982, Griffin was back on the bench again and appeared in nine games, leading to 39 rushing yards and one touchdown.
After the season, he retired and then briefly played with the Jacksonville Bulls of the USFL.
The only 2 time winner 1974 & 1975 of the Heisman Trophy from Ohio State Archie Griffin. Played 7 years for the Cincinnati Bengals 1976-82 and the Jacksonville Bulls 1985 pic.twitter.com/zO3SWoLWEA
— Cool Old Sports (@CoolOldSports) June 13, 2022
During his NFL career, Griffin had totals of 2,808 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns, 1,607 receiving yards, and six receiving scores.
Because of his outstanding collegiate career, Griffin’s disappointing pro career has led many football pundits to label him as a bust.
However, others have pointed out that Paul Brown preferred larger backs such as Johnson and that Griffin did not get enough carries.
Griffin himself affirms that fact but also notes that his yards per carry were good as a pro.
“Underrated? It depends on what the expectations are,” Griffin said in 2016. “When I went into pro football, my expectations were to originally get 1,000 yards a season. However, I found out quickly that I wasn’t going to get the ball enough to get 1,000 yards. I changed that goal to average five yards a carry. I didn’t quite reach five, but I think any running back in the NFL, if they can say he averaged over four yards a carry over the course of a career, they’d be happy with it.”
Griffin averaged 4.1 yards per attempt in his career.
Life After Football
When he was in college, Griffin majored in Industrial Management and graduated shortly after the fall semester ended in 1975.
During his career with the Bengals, Griffin invested in a retail business selling athletic shoes.
Eventually, he had six stores but the business folded due to a poor economy and a push to expand the business too quickly.
That ultimately led to bankruptcy and Griffin’s vow to be more cautious in the future.
”I guess you can say I’ll be quite conservative in the future. I won’t go into a business until I can be there and run it,” said Griffin in 1982.
Griffin rebounded to become CEO of OSU’s Alumni Association and was the Buckeyes’ associate athletic director for a time.
— Ohio State SPORTalk (@SPORTalkOSU) November 17, 2015
He is on the Board of Directors for an insurance company, Abercrombie and Fitch, the College Football Hall of Fame, and the National Football Foundation.
Prior to 2014, Griffin and former Lakers star Magic Johnson co-owned the Dayton Dragons, a minor league team for the Cincinnati Reds.
Griffin and his wife, Bonita, have been married for over 30 years and have two sons, Andre and Adam, who played football.