Michigan Week Q&A with The Two-Time Heisman Winner
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s Michigan Week. The biggest week of the year for every Ohio State fan on the planet.
We had a chance to catch up with the biggest Ohio State icon on the planet: the one and only Archie Griffin.
Ohio State’s all-time leading rusher and the current CEO of the school’s Alumni Association was gracious enough to share his thoughts with The-Ozone on everything from his playing days to Woody Hayes to ‘The Game’ to the possibility of a 12-0 season.
Ozone: Take us back to your playing days, what were you like during Michigan Week and on gamey day?
Griffin: I got nervous, I’ll be the first to tell you. Most games I got nervous, but Michigan I was a little more nervous than normal. There were a couple times I threw up before the game, and those are the times I actually played my best, to tell you the truth. It was always nervous, but confident we could go out and win the football game.
Ozone: What do you remember most about your career against that school up north?
Griffin: All four of those games are memorable. I think in 1972, it was my freshman year, the first time I experience the Michigan game as a player. I remember that week we had former players come in and talk with the team. I remember one of them came in and talked to us, and he was really fired up, this was on a Monday. Tears were coming down his eyes and I remember him saying, this is more than a football game, this is war. I looked around the room and saw the faces of my teammates and some of them tears in theirs eyes. I’m thinking man oh man, what am I getting myself into.
Ozone: They were all close contests, but you did finish your career without losing to those guys, right?
Griffin: Oh absolutely. That’s one of the things I’m most of proud. I hope anyone who can say that is very, very proud of that, and I know they are.
Ozone: You guys tied them in 1973 and it was another close one your senior year. Do you credit your brother Ray with keeping your first loss against the Wolverines?
Griffin: We wouldn’t necessarily have lost the game, but we could have had another tie. We weren’t playing very well on offense that day and we were down 14-7 with three or four minutes to go. Our offense finally made a drive to tie the game and Michigan kind of got a little desperate.
They felt like they needed to win that game because they didn’t want to have another tie. I think they had a tie with someone earlier in the season, so if they would have tied with us we would have gone back to the Rose Bowl anyway. I don’t think they wanted that to happen, so they started to pass and ray made that huge interception. He got it down around the three yard line and Pete (Johnson) took it over for the touchdown to pretty seal the game for us. That was a huge play.
Ozone: Do you still get excited during Michigan Week? Do those old butterflies ever come back?
Griffin: Oh yeah, this week is the week you wait for, really. When you come to Ohio State you look for opportunities such as this to play on a big stage, to play against a school like Michigan, who has a terrific tradition. You know you’re going to be playing against some great competition, so this week always excited me.
Ozone: How would you best describe Ohio State’s rivalry with Michigan?
Griffin: My take on the Michigan game, you have to play your best game. You have to be even better than you are. When you played against Michigan, they were going to be better than they are. Your normal play might not win it for you.
Ozone: Is that what led Woody Hayes to take the game so seriously? Could you tell he was different during this week of the year?
Griffin: You could tell he was more focused. He wanted to make sure the players were more focused. One of the great things about Woody was he could read players really well. He could tell when a player needed a little levity or when you were too tight. One thing he always said was, he would always tell you to ball up your fists real, real tight.
How long can you hold that? You cant hold that a real, real long time. So he wouldn’t want you to get too tight too early. He wanted to build you up along the way, and by the time the game came around, he wanted your fist to be really tight so you could use all your power.
Ozone: Coaches will say players play the games and make this rivalry what it is, but don’t coaches like Woody also have a huge impact on ‘The Game?’
Griffin: Oh I think coaches mean everything in this rivalry. They make a huge difference because the coaches are the ones who prepare you for this game. You have to have the right game plan to win this game and you have to have the right attitude going into the game. The coach has to make sure all those things are taken care of. It’s a team thing, coaches and players. It takes everything to get you ready for this one.
Ozone: When coaches like Woody or Earle are super intense about the rivalry, how much does that rub off on the players?
Griffin: Oh yeah, they can see that. They can see how bad coach wants it. But it’s easy to see that because the players want it too, so everybody’s on the same page. This is really an easy one to get up for, but you have to manage the way they get up for it.
Ozone: There are special circumstances surrounding this year’s game. What would it mean for this team to go a perfect 12-0?
Griffin: I think it would be fantastic. I think it’s something that should be celebrated, if it happens. This team has done a remarkable job this year being able to focus for 12 games. Being undefeated is not an easy thing to do. We’ve had some great teams here. I played on some great teams here, even that 1973 team and 1975 team we didn’t go unscathed.
The ’73 team we went undefeated, but we had the tie against Michigan, so that was a blemish. That 1975 team, which was a terrific football team, could have won the national championship but we lost in the Rose Bowl to a team we beat earlier in the year. So to go 12-0 is very, very difficult and a huge accomplishment. If they can accomplish that, they should celebrate it and be very, very proud of it. They should really make sure that accomplishment is honored.
Ozone: Any bitterness over the fact it has to end there? No chance for this team to prove how good it can be on the national stage.
Griffin: I’m sure there’s probably some, but it is what it is. If you can go through 12 games and go unscathed, be proud of that. Everything else is already laid out and you have no control over that, so don’t worry about it. If you go out there and win all 12 of your games, you’ve done something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Just be extremely proud.
*We would like to thank Archie Griffin for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. While many of them have certainly been asked before, Archie always comes up with new and interesting ways to tell some of the great tales of Ohio State football. We truly appreciate it.
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