A young boy’s first afternoon at Ohio Stadium was memorable, unforgettable and, as my research revealed, a significant day in the storied careers of Archie Griffin and Woody Hayes.
When Archie Griffin burst through the line and scored a 16-yard touchdown in the first quarter, I was the happiest kid in Ohio Stadium.
It was my first Ohio State football game. I was 9 years old. What a day.
I don’t actually recall that play or any other specific play, but I’m sure that’s how I felt. I was the kind of kid, even at that age, far more interested in the goosebumps and the elevated heart rate of the day than the popcorn and candy they were selling at the concession stands.
It was football heaven.
What I remember well about November 2, 1974, is approaching the open end, glimpsing the Horseshoe for the first time, and being with my dad, the man who taught me to love and respect sports and is still my biggest fan. I remember the immenseness of the edifice that is Ohio Stadium. I remember No. 45 in the scarlet jersey – my first football hero – running up and down the field with the football. That, I can see in my memory.
The Buckeyes defeated Illinois 49-7 that day, so every time they play the Illini I remember the bits and pieces that stuck with me. I remembered that day again on Friday when the Rose Bowl announced it will celebrate Griffin’s legacy as the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner with a statue outside the stadium.
Griffin’s statue will be dedicated in August and stand adjacent to a Legends Walk that will be created to highlight and educate visitors about the 19 Heisman winners who have played in the Rose Bowl game. Griffin is one of only two players to start in four Rose Bowls. What a deserving honor for one of the most humble people God put on this earth.
This stirring of my memory started me on an internet dive into the history of that day. What I didn’t recall was the historical significance and record-setting nature of the game.
On a 22-yard touchdown run early in the second half, Griffin surpassed 100 yards for the 19th straight regular-season game to set an NCAA record. By the time he finished at Ohio State the record reached 31 straight regular-season games. He finished the day with 144 yards on 20 carries, two touchdowns and a 27-yard reception. A vintage Griffin afternoon.
I don’t know how, but when I began searching for the game’s stats, the number 144 was already in my mind. And here’s what would be an oddity in today’s game. Quarterback Cornelius Greene had more carries than Griffin. Greene rushed 25 times for 127 yards and a touchdown. He also passed for 127 yards.
Woody Hayes was also celebrated that day. He was carried onto the field after the final gun on the shoulders of his players. I’m sure I must have questioned my dad what that was about. Hayes won his 200th game, and Griffin and his teammates showed their appreciation as the victory bell began to toll 200 times.
Not only was it my first college football game, I saw the No. 1 team in the nation. The Buckeyes reached 8-0 that day and remained No. 1 for the seventh straight week. They began the season No. 2 behind Oklahoma.
A more famous game (some might say infamous) took place seven days later at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan, when the Buckeyes lost 16-13 in confounding and controversial fashion to Michigan State.
The Buckeyes lost the lead late on an 88-yard touchdown run, an unheard-of play for that defense to allow. Then they drove to the 1-yard line in the final minute only for fullback Champ Henson to be denied, though he’s always said he crossed the goal line. The Buckeyes, out of timeouts, rushed to run another play.
The ball was snapped before everyone was set. The football bounced away from Greene, and wingback Brian Baschnagel recovered it in the end zone. The Buckeyes thought they had won. One official signaled touchdown. Another said no. The officials huddled, said the last play didn’t count, declared Michigan State the winner, and left the field.
But Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke was in the stadium and went looking for the officials. An hour later, after the longest “replay” in history, Duke declared the Spartans the winner.
The Buckeyes rebounded to defeat Iowa and finished the season with a memorable win over Michigan. Tom Klaban kicked four field goals for the Buckeyes, and Michigan’s Mike Lantry missed a last-second field goal attempt.
The Buckeyes were Big 10 champs and went to the Rose Bowl. Griffin landed in Pasadena as the Heisman winner. The Buckeyes lost a Rose Bowl classic, 18-17, to USC, John McKay, Pat Haden and J.K. McKay. If your OSU memories go back to January 1, 1975, those names haunt you.
Griffin gained 75 yards on 20 carries in the Rose Bowl, but his season was remarkable: 1,620 rushing yards in 11 games, 6.9 yards per carry, 12 touchdowns, the Big Ten’s career rushing leader as of the middle of the season, his first Heisman, and well on his way to becoming college football’s career rushing leader. He’s now No. 16 on that list, but still the No. 1 Buckeye.
Yes, No. 45, to me and I’m sure many others, is the No. 1 Buckeye of all time for his performance, his character and his love of Ohio State.
You might be too young to remember and appreciate Archie Griffin.
I am grateful that I am not.