Forgotten Player of the Moment – ARCHIE GRIFFIN
(by ED AGNER)
So I posed the question a while back as to how I ever became a football fan and it troubled me. Really. Of all the things that SHOULD trouble me at this stage of my life, the origins of my football fandom is the only thing that kept me awake at night – well, that and my ancient bladder that…well, never mind. You’ll understand when you get old.
Well I did some soul-searching and plumbed the depths of my past and all that jazz and quite frankly I had no answers. Oh, I could easily tell you all about how I became a baseball fan; there’s nothing much to search for there – born in 1970’s Ohio under the shadow of The Big Red Machine with the love of the sport already in my blood from spending far too many days of my formative years with my local baseball quasi-legend uncles in their filling station listening to old farmers argue about Bench and Rose, or at ball parks being a bat boy for their teams. Shoot, not liking baseball would have been paramount to declaring myself communist – and I was far-far-far-far away from any kind of teenage rebellion stage at that point.
But football? Hmm. Some may think, and most firmly believe, that Ohio is and always has been football country – what, with two (sorta) NFL teams and Ohio State and the football halls of fame (we had both the college and pro back in the day until the college hall moved out). But football CLEARLY took a backseat to baseball in ‘70’s Ohio. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we all dug football well enough, it was fun and amusing and all that. But pure fandom was another story all together.
Examining it in hindsight, it’s easy to figure out why there was a lack of true football fandom in the earliest stages of my life – the Bengals and the Browns flat-out sucked. Well, the Bengals sucked, anyway. The Browns were perfectly middle of the road, but boring and hopeless in an AFC Central that the Steelers dominated. And as for Ohio State…Well, they were there Ohio State of Woody Hayes – vanilla, boring, run-dominated, good in their own way but too bland to capture the attention of a grade school kid. Bad teams playing badly, boring teams playing boringly. Not exactly a marketing bonanza, really. In fact, now that I think of it, I knew no one who was a Bengals or Browns or Ohio State fan in grade school. If you liked football at all, you picked the Cowboys or the Steelers (for being the dominant teams, of course), maybe the Dolphins (Mmm, flashy colors) or Oilers (EARL CAMPBELL~!) or some team…more exotic, more exciting…less…Ohio.
(Jeez, this is becoming like a Bruce Springsteen song if he was Midwestern and stupid and sports-obsessed – Wait! Wouldn’t that be a John Cougar Mellencamp song then? Whatever. – I need to find a way to tie-in some forgotten cheerleader from the past and…I’ve digressed.)
ANYHOO, so the quest continued and FINALLY – lo and behold – while sorting through a box of old books I stumble across the seed, the reminder of the seed that spat forth an entire generation of Ohio football fans – THE ARCHIE GRIFFIN STORY. Yeah. OK, so the only/first ever two-time Heisman Trophy winner is HARDLY someone who SHOULD be a forgotten player of the moment but…well…I ain’t right.
So, the whole story about the book and Archie and all that being a catalyst for Ohio kids my age becoming football fans is that ‘round about ‘77-78 or so Griffin put out the aforementioned book and to properly pimp the tome, he set about doing bookstore signings in all the Hickville places in Ohio that he could stomach. Well, the folks took me because they were doing their goodly parents deal, I reckon. And all the parents of all the fellas from school did the same. A real live celebrity right here in Deliverance. Hoo Boy! I’m certain that none of us kids knew who in the world Archie Griffin was even with the Heisman’s and all. I’m certain none of us really cared. But there we were all the same. Maybe against or wills, maybe not. Who can be sure? It really doesn’t matter.
So there we were in the bookstore with a real live celebrity pro football player and…and the most remarkable thing about Griffin (other than the fact that he SOMEHOW managed to misspell my name in the autographed inscription. Yes. He misspelled “Ed.” I am looking at the inscription right now lest anyone think my pathetic memory is playing tricks on me yet again. He got the “E” right. Yessir. He nailed the “E,” no problem. Hell yeah! High five, Arch! But from there it gets dicey. It looks like he got a bit carried away – like, say, he thought the “E” was him in the backfield and the he was gonna take the rock all the way and since he was a Bengal and had no shot of ever feeling that rush again he was GOING FOR IT hell or high water. There’s the clearly nailed and correct and mostly-legible “E,” and it appears that there are AT LEAST 4-5 “D’s,” maybe more. Well, there are clearly several “D’s,” at least the 4-5; those are quite discernible and, on a legible scale of 1-10, probably are at least a 6. Those are the certainties. But then comes a sort of an end-flourish of scribbles that are either more “D’s” – odd that an offensive player had such the fondness for “D,” I know – or maybe a few sets of doodled Playboy Bunny ears, as if Archie got all shook up as he stared into the magazine rack that had the nice collection of gentlemen’s periodicals that was right behind where I stood as he was doling out the autographs, and maybe forgot he was signing a copy of his book for a 6-7 year old. I can see how that can happen, I guess. Oh, and it looks like there’s maybe an “N” in-between the clearly-nailed “E” and the flurry of “D’s.” Of course, I readily admit that I can’t verify all the letters in the inscription – since it looks like a major in Penmanship appeared too hard to Archie and he hooked up with that sweet Basket Weaving option instead. But I am certain that there are at least 3-4 times the letters in my name than is needed, which…is…peculiar…to say the least – but you should have seen the ink-blot Archie left in the inscription for a classmate named Matthew. It’s like Rorschach. Thank God there was no call for last name’s in the inscription. For the life of me, I’ll never know how anyone can ever misspell Ed . But I’m guessing Archie wasn’t at Ohio State to prepare himself for his post-graduate studies at Harvard. Just a guess.)…
Ahem. The most remarkable thing about Griffin was the fact that he was…so…small. I mean tiny. I was just in the first or second grade or whatever and I was almost as tall as him. And growing up in a farm community, most men I knew and saw were infinitely stockier, more beefy, manly-meatier, what have you, than him.
Now, of course I had seen a bit of football by then and had a preconceived notion that ALL football players were monstrously big, impossible huge, genetically freakish men who didn’t seem real. And as a wee tot, I couldn’t fully grasp that I would ever grow big enough to even make playing football at any level but the utmost pipe dream. But in looking at little Archie Griffin there – shoot, no reason I too couldn’t pursue that avenue.
(Actually, being a pro football player was NEVER-EVER-EVER my M.O.. I was going to be the guy who replaced Johnny Bench as catcher of the Reds – of course, proving at an early age that my math sucked and my grasp of reality was tenuous at best. Stupid curve balls!)
So because of Archie Griffin being a wee-tiny li’l man – and apparently no rocket scientist, to boot – football seemed more possible to me. The other fellas in school thought the same. Thus, the passion for football soon easily surpassed baseball in no time. We played it at every recess, we created recess team leagues, we kept track of made-up stats, we pondered how good we’d all be once we got the nonsense of 3rd grade out of the way, etc.. Of course, we all were not very good and no one ever amounted to anything on a football field, but that’s beside the point. Or is that the point? Whatever. The important thing is that little Archie Griffin spawned an entire generation of Ohio football idiots and for that he should be…umm…praised?
As far as Archie Griffin the pro football player? Ehh, he was just another Big 10+1/2*3-77 creation – a small and slow college player who was the end result of a great offensive line and a lack of competitive teams in the conference other than Ohio State and Michigan. He was a first-round pick by the hopeless Bengals in ‘76 and…well…that went as to be expected – got the crap kicked out of him until his spirit was broken and his will to live eked away slowly until good fortune blessed him via a visit from the turk. Eventually, after football, Griffin worked his way up to an assistant AD at Ohio State before getting out of that to be a figurehead for several charity and alumni associations – where he hopefully isn’t pressed into having to spell difficult words like Ed or Al or Bo or Lee or…Poor li’l guy.