Far from a one-man feat
Archie Griffin has always credited his teammates for helping him make Heisman history. Now, 40 years later, some key players look back at those days and that achievement.
The 40-year-old clip is grainy and hard to even find on the Internet.
But what it shows is a piece of college football history that has never been repeated: Archie Griffin at the dais at the New York Hilton accepting his second Heisman Trophy award in 1975.
“Football for me has meant meeting people and making new friends that will last a lifetime,” said Griffin, dressed 1970s fresh in a black tuxedo, white ruffled shirt and black bow tie. “It has meant learning to work with other people to achieve a common goal using teamwork. Teamwork isn’t a very big word, but believe me, without it, none of us stands a chance in life.”
That simple word played a very big part in helping Griffin rack up an NCAA-record 31 straight games with 100 yards or more en route to his pair of Heismans.
Allow us to enter this into evidence: 24 players from Ohio State were selected in the 1975 and 1976 NFL drafts following Griffin’s Heisman seasons. Eleven of those selections — including Griffin in ’76 — came in the first four rounds. Never have NFL teams selected so many Buckeyes in consecutive years, and rarely have so many been drafted so highly.
With trademark humility, Griffin gives enormous credit to his teammates, in particular to the talented linemen who blocked for him and his stablemates in a multi-dimensional Ohio State rushing attack under Coach Woody Hayes.
“I honestly believe I was in the right place at the right time with the right people,” he is often heard to say.
Those “right people” included eight offensive linemen picked in the NFL draft. Among them were four first-rounders — John Hicks, Doug France, Kurt Schumacher and Chris Ward — who in various combinations cleared the way for the “Fab 4” backfield of Griffin, fullback Pete Johnson, wingback Brian Baschnagel and quarterback Cornelius Greene, also all NFL picks.
Forty years later, many of these players continue to marvel at the Heisman legacy they helped create.
The very beginning
Ask Brian Baschnagel what he remembers most about playing with Griffin and he settles in to tell you a story. It’s a 43-year-old story, but Baschnagel tells it like it happened last weekend.
The timing was several days after Griffin’s record-setting performance as a freshman against North Carolina. It had been a magical day for Griffin, an afternoon when he would come off the bench as an unknown freshman to run for a then-record 239 yards.
But for Baschnagel, a Pennsylvania high school star recruited as a running back alongside Griffin, his teammate’s overnight stardom was an ominous sign that his own role might be riding the pine during his time at Ohio State. As practice ended that night, Baschnagel was thinking about transferring as he pondered the sobering prospect of four long years behind Griffin.
Alone in the open shower after practice, Baschnagel was lathering up as a fully-dressed Griffin — who had missed practice that day — materialized in the steam.
“Griffin looks me in the eye and says, ‘Brian, I’ve been meaning to talk to you since the game on Saturday. I’m from Columbus, and you’re from Pittsburgh. But I want you to know that if it had been the other way around, and you had been from Columbus, then you would have gone in the game and done what I did.”
Continued Baschnagel, who eventually started at wingback for Ohio State and played nine seasons for the Chicago Bears: “I told myself at that moment, ‘I don’t care if I have to play behind this guy for four years. I’m going to stick it out and push him to make him better and our team better.’”
Baschnagel wasn’t alone in wanting to do his best for No. 45.
“I’m a believer that whatever you do, when you do it for someone you genuinely like and respect, you’ll put in more work,” said Kurt Schumacher, a left tackle who blocked for Griffin in 1973 and ’74. “And everyone liked and respected Griffin.”
Finding the chemistry
Beyond Griffin’s leadership qualities, most of his teammates attribute the chemistry on those teams to “the old man” — demanding head coach Woody Hayes, who drilled basic running plays countless times in practice.
“If [Archie] got hit in the backfield, man, Woody would be on you,” said John Hicks, a two-time All-American right tackle whom Griffin has called his most talented Buckeye blocker. “He told us, ‘If this man gets hit in the backfield, I’m coming after you.’”
Pete Johnson, a star fullback who was one class behind Griffin, said Hayes drilled his young charges for hours on end. But he was more than a stern taskmaster.
“Repetition had a lot to do with it, but Woody Hayes also started every meeting we ever had by talking about something going on in current events or from history,” he said. “It gives you a great foundation, and he brought the team together and made them a great family.”
Couple the sweat equity that Hayes demanded with the first-rate talent Ohio State recruited along the offensive line and it’s no wonder Griffin consistently had seams to exploit, Schumacher said.
“We had a very athletic offensive line that allowed us to attack from sideline to sideline,” said Schumacher, whom the New Orleans Saints drafted after the ’74 season with the 12th overall pick. “We had a lot of really talented football players, especially when you consider everybody knew exactly what we were going to do. There wasn’t a lot of trickery in our offense, and the defense still couldn’t stop it.”
In fact, sometimes the defensive players lined up across from Hicks during the 1972 and ’73 seasons would know precisely when Griffin was coming their way. Because Hicks would tell them.
“He didn’t like it,” Hicks said of Griffin. “He’d say ‘Hicks, quit telling them I’m getting the ball.’ But it didn’t matter, we were on their heads, just knocking them off the ball. We were good.”
It came down to this
Griffin uses one word to describe the chemistry that developed between him and the offensive line: accountability.
“We were able to hold each other accountable for the way things were expected to go,” Griffin said. “If I got the ball, I was going to do what I could do to get in the gap. That’s what being a team is, holding each other accountable and everybody working hard for the same cause.”
Dick Mack, a right guard who started for two years during Griffin’s time, said the loyalty took several forms.
“We were accountable to each other, and we were accountable to Woody, but there was an accountability in the program that went back longer. We felt accountable to the guys who had gone to Ohio State and done it before.”
Hicks agrees. “You have this tradition, and all of these great guys in front of you,” he said. “For me, it was Jim Parker. I knew about Jim Parker when I was a kid. This is a great place with great people, and you want to do your part.”
Four decades later
As the 40th anniversary of Griffin’s second Heisman win rolls around, his former teammates are taking stock of what it meant to help him earn his unprecedented honor.
Schumacher said he thinks Griffin’s records and awards mean more to the linemen who blocked for him than they do to the man himself.
“I remember when the game managers would come in with the stats, the offensive line would be climbing all over people trying to find out how many yards Archie got,” he said. “It was a real delight blocking for Archie and for Cornie and all of those guys, really.”
Baschnagel said for him, it’s not the big wins over Michigan, the Big Ten Championships or the accolades piled upon Griffin that stand out. It’s the flood of memories when he thinks about his days in Columbus.
“What matters are the emotional memories I have of Ohio State, both good and bad,” Baschnagel said. “When we lost, which wasn’t very often, you share those emotions with your teammates and your coaches, just like you do the good times. I treasure all of those memories.”