On the stage sat winners of three Heisman Trophies, two of them belonging to one man, making the discussion one unique to Ohio State.
Of course, everything on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer is unique to Ohio State, one of the few schools in the nation who can put Buckeye celebrities and numerous former players on a boat and sell out the thousands of slots while providing everyone on board with enough entertainment that no one seems to go home unhappy.
Included in that was Friday morning’s discussion with running backs Eddie George and Archie Griffin. The two won college football’s biggest honor 20 years apart, but it was clear they had more in common than their ages might indicate as they discussed Ohio State football and the stiff-arm trophy in front of a packed ballroom of fans.
There was much else to do as the sun-in-the-fundraiser motored through the Caribbean on the way to Grand Cayman – including a belly-flop contest at the hotel’s main pool won by former OSU basketball player J.J. Sullinger, who promptly donated the prize of 52 weeks’ worth of Papa John’s pizza to the James Cancer Center, and a cornhole tournament staged by Scoonie Penn – but the can’t-miss OSU-themed show of the day was the Heisman discussion, and the two running backs did not disappoint.
The discussion was filled with laughs from the very beginning, when emcee Anthony Rothman of 97.1 The Fan asked Archie his thoughts on watching George run to the Heisman on the 1995 team.
“I would like to say that I’d like to see some of him in me because I would love to have been … 6-2?” the more diminutive Griffin said.
“6-3 … and a half,” George replied to laugher.
“And weighed about – you played at 225?” Griffin asked.
“227,” George replied to more laughs.
“Gotta get that 27 in there,” Griffin said. “But I would love to have had that size because when Eddie played, his body build, his size, his strength, his speed, I said, ‘He’s just unreal.’ I would have loved to have had that, but I can say the one thing that I saw in Eddie that I like to feel that I had was the determination, the work ethic.”
“He didn’t need (the size),” George said. “He won two Heismans. Two! He didn’t need any of my size. Archie had something much more than the physical attributes, he had tremendous heart. You watch the highlights, you can see how a running back runs. He ran with a great deal of passion. He ran mad.”
“Well, you had to run mad at 185 pounds,” Griffin quipped.
The two were off and running from there, often playing off one another while answering questions from Rothman and fans as part of the hour-long show. Both also shed lights into their careers when they discussed how they overcome troubles early in their careers with fumbling to become the running backs they were.
“I came into the university with a bevy of great running backs. I just wanted to make my name some way, somehow my freshman year,” George said. “I thought I did that. I got in against Syracuse early in the season, had three touchdowns, a prime-time game on ESPN. In fact, that’s the same game that the whole ‘Ed-die!’ chant started, and I thought it was a fan, but it was my drunk uncle who embarrassed me with his shirt off in the Carrier Dome,” George said to laughter before moving on.
“It was about two weeks after, we had our home opener in the Big Ten against Illinois and I fumbled twice, and those Eddies turned to boos really quick. I didn’t see the field again until my junior year. Who helped me get through that time frame really was Raymont Harris, Robert Smith – a few of my teammates – and then Archie. I’ve gone to Archie on several occasions and asked him, ‘What did it take to be truly great?’ and he said, ‘It’s your work ethic. Continue to do the things that you’ve been doing. Your time will come. You have to understand that you have upperclassmen ahead of you who are just as talented, but within that time frame, what are you going to do?’
“I would work out, I would be the first one in, last one to leave in the gym. I would do extra workouts to make sure that I crossed every T and dotted every I. I wanted to make sure that while I wasn’t playing, what was my energy going forward? And I was going be the best cheerleader I can be. Sophomore year, personally, I thought I should be playing, but it was Raymont and Butler By’not’e’s time. Instead of pouting, I said, you know what, if my role is going to be to support my teammates toward having an undefeated season, then I’m going to do that. I was the best damn towel waver around. There are pictures of me standing on the bench waving a towel, getting the fans involved because that was my job and I embraced that.”
Griffin, meanwhile, fumbled in his first game at OSU vs. Iowa in 1972, so little did he know that his breakout performance would come just a single game later vs. North Carolina.
“I had no idea that I was going to get in the game,” Griffin said. “All week long, I practiced on the scout squad before that game. I didn’t even get to take any snaps with the first team or second team. I was running North Carolina’s plays for our defense, and the first quarter of that game, we were down 7-0.
“Midway through the first quarter, a call from the bench called ‘Griffin!’ It kept calling, ‘Griffin!” I knew they weren’t talking to me. They kept calling ‘Griffin!’ However, I was the only Griffin on the team at the time, so I went up to Coach Hayes. He grabbed me by the shoulder pads, told me to go in the game, then I got all excited and went to run on the field and one of my teammates called me back because I had forgotten to take my helmet with me. I could not believe that he had meant for me to go in the game.
“So I went into the game, and all I could tell you as my number was being called, my eyes were that big around, and I was just running with the ball. And I come to the fourth quarter, he pulled me out of the game and when I got to the sideline, the announcers announced that I had just broken an Ohio State record with 239 yards, which kind of blew me away. But then I came back down to reality when I got back to the dorm because I turned on the TV and they announced on the TV that Archie Greene had just rushed for 239 yards.”
Griffin went on to become the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner in the sport’s history, picking up the honor as a junior in 1974 and adding a second trophy in ’75. At the time, there was no live television announcement, leading to the Downtown Athletic Club to have to change its ways when it came to giving the Columbus native his second trophy.
“It was different then than it is now,” Griffin said. “They have the big show right now and you sit down there and you’re selected. I told him how it was when I won the Heisman Trophy. The Monday after the Michigan game, the Downtown Athletic Club, who were the sponsors for the Heisman, would call our sports information director and they told our sports information director – this was ’74 – that I needed to be in New York City the next day and when I got there, there was going to be two or three other there as well and they were going to announce who was the Heisman Trophy winner.
“I was all excited, got on that plane, went to New York, got to the Downtown Athletic Club – and I was the only one there. They had the luncheon and they announced me as the Heisman Trophy winner. Well, 1975 comes along and they couldn’t reach me because I was doing a speaking engagement in Bellaire, Ohio, on that Monday. And so the assistant sports information director, a guy by the name of Steve Snapp, told me as I’m going to Bellaire, Ohio, to stop and call, so I had to stop at a service station, get on the phone and call him.
“We didn’t have cell phones back then, so I had to stop at a service station, put a couple of dimes in the telephone and call back. Well, Steve Snapp told me that I had won the Heisman, but they told him specifically to tell me that I couldn’t tell anybody because they wouldn’t run that game on me that there were going to be two or three others there when I got there. They told me I couldn’t tell anybody. I didn’t keep my word – I told my mother and father and I told my girlfriend, but that was the difference, and I kind of liked it that way. I know, Eddie, when you guys are sitting up there and they’re getting ready to call somebody’s name, you gotta be a nervous wreck.”
“Oh my god, it was unbelievable sitting there at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City with my family, my friends, Archie was there obviously, and I had no idea they were going to call my name,” the 1995 winner said. “When they did so, it was so surreal. I just remember I did an interview, but after the interview, they went on a commercial break and said, ‘When we come back, we’re going to announce the Heisman Trophy winner.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, here we go.’ It was two minutes, which seemed like 30 minutes, an hour, because all these thoughts were running through my mind, just thinking of all the history I had gone through, the battles, the adversity, the fumbles, just getting to Ohio State, just to make my mark, just to be in that position – this was all rushing back in my mind.
“I remember thinking, ‘Man, you know what? If I win, it will be great. If I don’t win, I still won,’ because I got there. Through it all, I made it here. For a kid who grew up in Philadelphia, sitting down on my mom’s stoop and looking out at the skyline of the city, saying, ‘I know that there’s something better out there for me, I’m going to make it to the next level. I don’t know how or when or what I’m going to do to get there, but I’m going to get there.’ Sitting there in that moment, I had already won. But when they called my name, my life changed forever.”
As an example, George went on to tell the audience that later that night, he met singer Tamara Johnson of the group SWV. She would eventually become his wife, though he made sure to mention that she had shot down his request for an autograph a year earlier when he had asked.
“This story is flawed,” she said to laughter from the back of the room.
Perhaps it was, but stories such as those still made for an entertaining hour for the Buckeye fans on board.
For more on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer and to look into booking options for next year, visit BuckeyeCruise.com.