Some people say football is like war. Players wear armor, attack their opponents, and execute tireless strategies in the quest to seize territory. But for former Ohio State University running back and only two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, football is about community. The Columbus Foundation hosted an intimate gathering with the football legend this afternoon in honor of his nine years of service on its Governing Committee. Seated at the front of Davis Hall next to Columbus Foundation president and CEO Doug Kridler, Griffin spoke humbly and candidly about his experience growing up in Columbus and the importance of mentoring our youth.
“I had a ball growing up in Columbus,” said Griffin. One of eight children, he began playing football at Blackburn Park at the age of nine. His father worked three jobs and took vacation time to watch his kids’ sporting events. Griffin still reminisces about the sacrifices his dad made to provide for his children, and how he constantly praised the value of getting a college education. “I think about that man every day,” he said. Teachers also motivated Griffin to work hard and act with integrity. “Mrs. Scott at Clearbrook Middle School spent a lot of time with me and made a huge difference in my life,” he said. “I’ll never forget how positive she was.” Another of Griffin’s junior high teachers, Mr. Gill, taught him the 3 D’s: Desire, Dedication, and Determination. It stuck with him. “I talk about the 3 D’s just about everywhere I go,” Griffin said. “If you apply them to something in your life, what you’re giving is a total commitment. You can’t ask anyone to give more than that.”
Another of Griffin’s biggest influences is no surprise. “Woody Hayes always talked about paying it forward,” he said. “He lived it.” Every Thursday night, Coach Hayes drove Griffin and his teammates to Children’s Hospital in his El Camino. No one knew that Hayes did this. Hospital staff members left a designated door unlocked so Hayes and his team could spend time with patients. “That really left a lasting impression on me about what our coach stood for,” Griffin said. “He knew we were impacting the lives of young people and wanted us to be part of the community.” Hayes also ensured that his players studied. “He used to ask us how we were doing in our classes, and you better have had a good answer, because he already knew,” Griffin laughed.
Since 2004, Griffin has served as President/CEO of OSU’s Alumni Association. He’s also senior vice president of alumni relations. An internationally recognized figure and former NFL football player, he could pretty much live wherever he wants. And that’s Columbus. “I love Central Ohio,” he said. “It has been great to me.” Griffin felt safe walking or hitchhiking to eastside area sports fields when he was a youngster, but acknowledged that times have changed and children now need as much guidance and inspiration as possible. “The youth are our future of this community,” he said. “We need to give them opportunities so they can be successful.” He thinks that organized sports programs offer constructive, meaningful outlets for kids because they teach “the will to win, how to work together as a team, and how to get back up when you’re knocked down.” As the daughter and granddaughter of professional tennis players, and as someone who played sports throughout childhood, I wholeheartedly agree. Griffin was asked several years ago how he became a superstar running back at 5’8” and 180 pounds, and he answered simply, “I had heart.” All it takes for any of us to achieve our goals is the drive to try to attain them — and the encouragement of people like Griffin to help us along the way.