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East County Friday, Feb. 22, 2019 7 months ago

Game Changer

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Retired NFL running back Archie Griffin has two Heisman Trophies, a fabled college career, a charity golf tournament and one of the nicest reputations in football.
by: Heidi Kurpiela Managing Editor

On a golf course in Lakewood Ranch, Archie Griffin goes mostly unrecognized. In his moisture-wicking polo shirt and megawatt smile, he looks like any other baby boomer heartily swinging a Ping 9-iron. At the Lucky Pelican, when he sits down for lunch, he doesn’t draw a crowd; not like other local sports celebrities. He doesn’t peddle memorabilia, self-help books or memoirs. When he’s approached for an autograph or asked to pose for a picture, he quietly obliges, flattered to be recognized at all. 

“At my age, I’m just thankful that people still remember,” Griffin says. “It’s always a blessing to be noticed.”

He keeps a low profile in Lakewood Ranch, where he’s lived for four years at Esplanade Golf & Country Club with his wife, Bonita, to whom he’s been married for more than three decades.

At 5-foot-9, the former running back doesn’t look like a retired football player, much less a Hall of Famer. At 64, the legendary Ohio State Buckeye is the only college football player to have won the Heisman twice – in 1974 and 1975. No other player has come close, nor conducted themselves with as much decency as Griffin, who went on to play for seven seasons with the
Cincinnati Bengals, and serve 11 years as president and CEO of the Ohio State University Alumni Association. 

Griffin is a god in Ohio. A household name. A living legend. Just the mere mention of the moniker “Arch” among Buckeyes conjures up unabashed affection and the kind of reverence reserved for world leaders and saints. 

When Griffin goes out for dinner in his hometown of Columbus, he seldom slips under the radar. 

“You can’t walk into a restaurant in Columbus that isn’t filled with Archie Griffin fans,” says Bruce Cassidy, an Ohio native and Lakewood Ranch resident. “He’s approached constantly, and I’ve never seen him not be gracious. I asked him once, ‘How do you do this all the time?’ He said, ‘My Ohio family made me who I am today. It’s an honor, not a burden.’”

Golf is unlike any other sport I’ve participated in. It’s one of those games where you think you’ve got it and then all of a sudden you don’t. You don’t ever really get golf. Golf gets you,” Archie Griffin says.

Cassidy, owner of The Concession Golf Club in East Manatee County, has known Griffin for years. Nine years ago, he and Griffin launched the Archie Griffin Celebrity Golf Classic benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County.   

Over the past eight years, the two-day annual event at The Concession has raised more than $800,000. This year’s tournament, held March 4-5, will feature keynote speaker Evander Holyfield and celebrity emcee Damon Hack of NBC Sport’s The Golf Channel. 

Griffin says the fundraiser is his way of giving back to the community, something his beloved Ohio State coach Woody Hayes used to urge all his fellow Buckeyes to do. 

“Woody said, ‘You can’t pay back what people have done for you, so pay it forward by helping out young people,’” Griffin says. “He also told me to smile at people and they’ll smile back. I’ve done both of these things in my career, and it’s served me well.”

Griffin got his start playing little league football in Columbus. Despite breaking records in college as a small, light-footed running back, he cut his teeth as a defensive lineman (“I was a fat kid,” he jokes. “They called me Tank.”). 

One of six brothers, all of them football players, Griffin played nose guard in elementary school alongside kids almost twice his age because of his weight. After slimming down in high school, he was asked to fill in as a fullback when a player failed to show up for a game. To the coach’s surprise, Griffin nailed the position, running the ball as fast as any other running back on the team, leaving his days as a pudgy lineman behind. 

Says Griffin, “My high school coach had a sign hanging in our locker room that said, ‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.’ I liked that because I was never the biggest guy on the field, I just played with a big heart.”

During his last three seasons at Ohio State, Griffin rushed for 4,700 yards. In 1986, he was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame and in 1999, his jersey (No. 45) was retired by the Buckeyes.

“Desire, dedication and determination,” Griffin says. “I’ve tried to live my life giving a total commitment to those three Ds.”

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