The Ohio State legend remains college football’s only two-time Heisman winner.
To Scots, to drinkers of Drambuie, “the 45” recalls the 1745 Rebellion, the last attempt by the Stuart dynasty to regain control of the British throne. It recalls Bonnie Prince Charlie, The Battle of Culloden, defeat. But to Ohio State football fans, “45” means something entirely different, something glorious, in fact; it means Archie Griffin, one of the greatest Buckeyes ever, one of the best college football players ever.
As we continue our journey through the past, recalling Ohio State’s Heisman Trophy winners, I can’t help being surprised at the long gap between Howard “Hopalong” Cassady’s 1955 honor and Archie Griffin’s Heisman of 1974.
These were Woody’s teams, often outstanding teams. The Buckeyes won national championships in 1957, 1961, 1968, and 1970. Yet, no Heisman winners. Granted, these were frequently low-scoring, tough, defensive teams, and Heismans go to offensive players.
As I go through those rosters, the names on the offense are familiar, however, and, as a kid, to me they were stars: Tom Matte, Bob Ferguson, John Mummey, Joe Sparma, Matt Snell, Paul Warfield, Tom Barrington, Don Unverforth, Bo Rein, Rex Kern, Jim Otis, John Brockington. All great Buckeyes— but no Heisman winners.
However, the drought ended in 1974, as running back Archie Griffin won the first of his two Heismans. Archie’s Bucks went 10-2, and were ranked first in the nation most of the season. They finished four points away from a perfect season, losing to Michigan State in East Lansing by three, and falling to Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl, 18-17.
The Buckeyes’ defense was stellar that season, allowing just around ten points per games, but that offense was something else, especially the rushing attack. Check out these numbers: quarterback Cornelius Greene ran for 842 yards and nine touchdowns, fullback Pete Johnson rushed for 320 and scored six times, Champ Henson dashed for 433 and 12 TDs, and Brian Baschnagel contributed 355 yards on only 37 carries for a whopping 9.6 yards per attempt. That’s nearly 2,000 rushing yards in support of Griffin’s 1,695.
Archie tallied 12 rushing TDs and averaged 6.6 years per carry. And the way that he ran — changing directions, changing speeds, fighting off defenders with his free hand — was a sight to behold. Yes, he was fast and elusive, but he was also ferocious. Everybody (except opposing defenders) loved him.
In 1975 Griffin made history, as he won his second Heisman, a feat that still has never been equaled. Again, Ohio State was ranked No. 1, this time all the way to the Rose Bowl, where the Bucks unfortunately lost to UCLA 23-10. Coming in fourth in the final AP poll, the Buckeyes were 11-1, scoring 384 points and allowing only 102 over the course of 12 games.
In 1975, Green threw more from the quarterback position, connecting on 68 of his 121 passes for six touchdowns (and eight interceptions). Baschnagel continued to put up big numbers: 109 yards on only 15 rushes (7.3 average) and 24 pass receptions for 350 yards and two TDs. Woody liked his fullbacks, and Johnson ran the ball nearly as much as Griffin did, finishing the season with 1,059 yards on 227 carries and scoring a phenomenal 25 rushing TDs. On the goal line, Pete nearly always got the ball.
One could argue, I suppose, that Archie’s numbers fell in 1975. He carried the ball 262 times (almost the same as in 1974) for 1,450 yards, producing an average of 5.5 yards per carry, about a yard shorter of his per attempt average from the previous season. And while he caught 14 passes for 170 yards, Griffin scored only four touchdowns, all rushing. As I said, on the goal line, Johnson got the ball.
Nevertheless, Griffin was thrilling all year long, and the Buckeyes were in contention for a national title until the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl. When the Heisman balloting came around in December, it’s not as though Griffin had no competition. On the contrary. Here are the votes for the top four Heisman finishers in 1975:
Quite a group. And it wasn’t that Archie was a runaway winner; his stats were essentially right in line with the other finalists. However, the trophy was his until somebody came along who was better. No one did. Maybe, in fact, no one ever has. The two Heismans make Griffin unique, but even without them, he’d be regarded as one of the college game’s greatest players.
When Archie left Ohio State and started playing in the NFL, he held the career NCAA record for most rushing yards and is the only player ever to start in four Rose Bowl games. Following his playing career, Griffin worked in OSU’s athletic office as Associate Athletic Director and headed the Ohio State Alumni Association for eleven years. Still active in OSU sports, Griffin is one of the most loved of all Buckeye sports stars. Number 45 — we’ll never forget you.