Somewhere back in the history of college football there was a stereotyped coach, complete with growl, baggy canvas pants, baseball cap and whistle around the neck who conjured up the myth that freshmen cannot play varsity ball because they are inexperienced and undeveloped. Innocently, the world has lived with that myth for quite a while, without questioning it, except during the periods of the Second World War and the Korean involvement. Freshmen cannot play. Not ready yet. That's it.
Well, here we all now sit in Ohio Stadium, all 86,000 of us, right here on the banks of Woody Hayes' Olentangy River in Columbus, in utter and complete shock at the whirling, dashing sight of 18-year-old Archie Griffin, freshman tailback, three days in classes at Ohio State, who has just ripped off a record 239 yards inside a 50-year-old cement edifice that has seen the cleats of the very best. Archie Griffin has just spun off wicked runs of 55 yards and 32 yards and 22 yards and 20 yards and 11 yards and assorted runs of six and eight and nine yards. He has sneaked through tiny little holes in the line, and he has slid outside and tiptoed down sidelines. He has bumped into people from North Carolina and knocked them down. He has burst into the sunlight of the secondary and darted this way and that. He has scored a touchdown and set up other touchdowns and a field goal and won a game for the Buckeyes, the final score being 29-14.
This is essentially a fullback's ball park. Ohio Stadium belongs to all of those fellows from Woody Hayes' past who run a thing called the Robust-T arid who send thunder into the minds of visitors. This is a place where the 86,000 are accustomed to watching gentlemen like Hubert Bobo and Will Sander and Bob White and Matt Snell and Bob Ferguson and Jim Otis and John Brockington go bang-crash-crunch into people while most of them are wondering why they keep coming out to see it and agree that they probably wouldn't if Woody's teams didn't always win much more than they lose.
But into this fullback's paradise, and in front of the roaring crowd, came this teen-ager last Saturday to break a 27-year-old Buckeye rushing record with astonishing ease, and break the Tar Heels along with it. As North Carolina's Bill Dooley said afterward, "We came here not even knowing Archie Griffin existed, and now you tell me he's a freshman!"
Griffin was most likely a happy surprise to Woody Hayes himself, although Woody outfought Navy and Northwestern to recruit him last spring. Probably talked him into staying home during lunch one afternoon at Woody's favorite eatery, the Big Bear Supermarket.
Ohio State played an opening game two weeks prior to North Carolina, and in that 21-0 victory over Iowa, Archie Griffin, freshman, had appeared for only a moment. Toward the end. Now he's averaging 119.5 yards a game.
Anyone following Columbus high school football might have guessed on Friday evening that the weekend would belong to the Griffin family. James, who is a factory laborer, and his wife Margaret have eight children and live on Kenview Road, across town from the Ohio State campus. On Friday night in a smaller stadium and a smaller game, Ray Griffin, who is a high school junior, sped through the rain for touchdowns of 68, 19 and 16 yards, as Eastmoor High defeated Central High 30-14. So it would seem that Woody Hayes, as well as the football world, can look forward to seeing a lot of Griffins in the future. It would seem unthinkable now that Archie and Ray wouldn't want to play in the same Ohio State backfield.
Archie did not get in the North Carolina game last week until Ohio State trailed by 7-0, thanks to a blocked punt, and until starting Tailback Morris Bradshaw had shown he could not gain any yardage. Archie, who is only 5'10" and weighs 185, came in, just an insignificant No. 45 on your program, a tailback in the Power-I that Woody runs when he isn't in the Robust-T.
First play, Archie Griffin goes outside for six yards. Second play, Archie goes inside for six yards. Another play, Archie goes inside for six more yards. Griffin got the call only once after that, so Ohio State stalled. Ah, but the next time. On first down, there went Archie wriggling, turning on the speed, 32 yards. Ohio State was finally untracked.
A rare Hayes-ordered pass, from Quarterback Greg Hare to Rick Galbos, worked, and then it was Archie Griffin for six straight carries to what wound up being a field goal, mainly because Archie didn't carry anymore.
In the second quarter it was Griffin's 22-yard run that set up the go-ahead touchdown for Ohio State and a 9-7 lead at halftime. It was Archie's 20-yard squirm in the third quarter that got the Buckeyes started on the drive that made the score 16-7. And it was his dazzling 55-yard run later in the period that set up the score that made it 23-7. Game over, for all practical purposes.
Along about then it became obvious that Archie Griffin could break Ollie Cline's 1945 single-game rushing record at Ohio State—229 yards—a record that past halfbacks like Vic Janowicz and Hopalong Cassady (who had his own big day as a freshman, scoring three touchdowns) had not been able to approach. All he needed to do was be lucky enough for Woody to let him carry the ball in the fourth quarter. He was.
After an interception, Archie ripped for four, six, six, six more and finally nine yards, breaking two tackles, dancing on the sideline, for his very own touchdown and the rushing record. He left the field to a standing ovation, and the announcement that the record was his.
"I don't know what it is that makes a player that good," Woody said later. "He's not big but he has power. He has speed but not great speed. He's just hard to catch. He has a natural knack of knowing what to do, where to run."
And then Woody talked about the new freshman rule. "Freshmen may revolutionize college football. They give you a bigger squad to work with. They can give your squad a vitality and an enthusiasm it might not have. Everybody is going to have those few who can play, the exceptional kids. Take Archie. All you have to do is hand him the ball."
Woody went on, "I have never known whether I was for or against the freshman rule until now. Archie has convinced me it's O.K."
Archie Griffin himself is a quiet lad, and certainly a little bewildered about the whole thing. Although he had been on the squad since training began, he never expected to become useful so quickly. "It's all new," he said. "This is a big campus, and I don't even know my way around. I was lucky. I got in the game when the line was starting to open up the holes. I just ran. That's all."
That was enough. And Griffin's presence threw a whole new perspective on this 1972 Ohio State team. It's a young team, still finding its way. Physically, it resembles those Rex Kern-Jack Tatum teams, only it appears to be even deeper. There's muscle in the line and abnormal speed everywhere else and Greg Hare, only a junior, looks like a running-throwing quarterback who can lead it.
There's not much in the way of Ohio State in the form of a schedule. The Buckeyes are 2-0 and, until they meet Michigan on Nov. 25, it's just so many Northwesterns and Minnesotas. "We've got more depth and more potential than we've ever had," Woody said a couple of days before North Carolina showed up.
He went all through the depth that he had, and guess what? He never even mentioned Archie Griffin. But why should he? We all know you cannot depend on a freshman.