Archie Griffin is probably a shade under 5-8, but his shadow looms large over Heisman history. He won the award in 1974 after rushing for a Big Ten-record 1,620 yards and then returned in 1975 as the favorite to become the first two-time winner.
There weren’t a whole lot of established candidates to challenge Griffin in ’75. Going in, his main competition was probably senior running back Joe Washington of Oklahoma, who was coming off a 1,321-yard (8.4 ypc) junior season in which he led the Sooners to a share of the national title. Washington finished third in the 1974 Heisman voting, but he had one major hurdle to face in his quest for the 1975 trophy: The Sooners were on probation and banned from television. As we know, big performances on TV are key in the Heisman race.
Of the top 10 Heisman finalists in 1974, only Griffin and Washington returned in 1975. That paved the way for some up-and-coming names to make a move in the race.
Pittsburgh’s Tony Dorsett was considered the likeliest to do so. He was a junior coming off a couple impressive 1,000-yard seasons, but Pitt was still a year away from becoming a national contender.
USC was breaking in a new tailback, Ricky Bell, a former linebacker and fullback, but no one expected him to become a national name in time to make a Heisman run.
There were a few other talents out there who had yet to put it all together for a full season and who played for teams that weren’t considered traditional powers: running back Chuck Muncie of Cal, quarterback John Sciarra of UCLA and fullback Jimmy DuBose of Florida, to name a few.
The biggest advantages for Griffin heading into the season were:
—He was a returning senior Heisman winner in a year when the competition wasn’t particularly well-established.
—He played for a team that was ranked fourth by the AP in the preseason and so was considered a national title contender.
—He was within easy reach of the all-time NCAA rushing record.
—He had a string of 21-straight 100-yard games to his credit.
—He played for a traditional power that liked to run the ball in an era when tailbacks reigned supreme.
A lot of these points are finely encapsulated in this 1975 Sports Illustrated story by Ray Kennedy (who, incidentally, sounds like he could’ve been the HP of that era, considering his exquisite Heisman analysis):
Another Heisman? It’s more than a mere possibility; Griffin goes into the 1975 season as a favorite to become the first player to win two.
Beyond meeting the traditional criteria-he is a senior (seniors have won 35 of the 40 Heismans), a back (backs have won 38 times), plays in a major conference (the Big Ten leads all other leagues with nine winners) for a renowned team (Ohio State’s four winners are second only to Notre Dame’s six) — Griffin has four additional advantages.
First, given his already impressive statistics, Griffin figures to go on making the kind of news-he needs only 896 more yards, for example, to break the career rushing record of 4,715 set by Cornell’s Ed Marinaro in 1971 — that influences Heisman voters.
Second, the increasing popularity of the veer and wishbone has greatly diminished the chances of a free-flinging quarterback coming to the fore.
Third, marked man that he is, Griffin will again benefit mightily from Ohio State’s all-around running attack, a threat that makes ganging up on the Heisman hotshot “tactical suicide,” as Minnesota assistant coach Dick Moseley puts it.
And fourth, while his chief rival, Oklahoma’s Joe Washington, will once more suffer from the TV ban imposed on the Sooners by the NCAA for recruiting violations, Griffin should be gaining valuable exposure points in the two Buckeye regular-season games that will be telecast nationwide this fall.
All told, Griffin’s Heisman hopes seem endangered only by a pair of intangibles: prejudice and precedent. Some voters, particularly if the contest is at all close, will undoubtedly reject Griffin solely on the grounds that two Heismans is one two many for any player. And if Archie is to endure as something more than one-fifth of a trivia question, he will have to avoid injuries and other turns of fate that caused the other four players who won the award as juniors–Army’s Doc Blanchard in 1945, SMU’s Doak Walker in 1948, Ohio State’s Vic Janowicz in 1950 and Navy’s Staubach–to fade in their final seasons.
These were nice advantages to have and Griffin’s competition would be hard-pressed to trump them. What could’ve beaten Griffin? I think it would’ve required a superlative statistical season by a player from a national-title contending team.
As it turned out, his main competitor heading into the season, Washington, rushed for just 944 yards, though Oklahoma did go on to win the national title (remember, however, that Ohio State was No. 1 at the time of the Heisman ceremony). Dorsett was hampered by injuries and ended up with 1,004 yards on an 8-4 Pitt team. USC’s Bell burst onto the scene with 1,875 yards–just six yards shy of Ed Marinaro’s single-season mark–but the Trojans collapsed with four-straight losses after opening 7-0.
So the main challenger to Griffin ended up being Muncie, who paced a Cal offense that led the nation in total yardage. Muncie collected 1,460 rushing yards, with 13 touchdowns and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. The Bears tied for the Pac-10 championship. But the Bears also finished 8-3 with a crushing loss to UCLA in late October that probably put an end to Muncie’s Heisman hopes. In the end, outrushing and outscoring Griffin wasn’t enough. Becoming the all-time NCAA rusher while playing for the No. 1 team was Griffin’s trump card.
Looking back, Griffin pretty much wrapped up the Heisman race by mid-October. He went over 100 yards in an opening win over No. 11 Michigan State, then rushed for 128 yards in a 17-9 win over No. 7 Penn State in game two. A couple weeks later, he galloped for 160 in a 41-20 romp over No. 13 UCLA . By game four, the Heisman was his to lose.
At that point, Ohio State was elevated to the No. 1 spot in the polls and then proceeded to slice through the rest of its regular season schedule, winning by an average score of 38-6.
On the eve of the Heisman vote, Griffin’s stats looked like this:
—1,357 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns in 1975
–5,589 career rushing yards, an NCAA record
–33 career 100-yard games, an NCAA record
Griffin on winning again:
The second time was much harder for me. We had to replace some guys from the first team and the others stepped up and did a great job. At the same time, you were a marked man. You weren’t going to surprise anybody. I put a lot pressure on myself. I always believed in Woody (Hayes) when he said you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse. You never stay at the same level. I thought for me to get better, I had to win the Heisman again. That was warped thinking, but it was the pressure I put on myself.”
|The Vote totals||Points|
|1st||Archie Griffin||Ohio State||Sr.||RB||454||167||104||1,800|
|3rd||Ricky Bell||Southern California||Jr.||TB||70||169||160||708|
No. of registered electors: 1,041
Date of announcement: December 2, 1975
Date of dinner: December 11, 1975
The positions within each region were as follows:
|3rd||Muncie||R. Bell||Muncie||Washington||R. Bell|
|4th||R. Bell||Muncie||Dorsett||R. Bell||Dorsett|
Griffin’s senior year numbers were not particularly impressive. His 1,357 yards at the time of the award ceremony remain the fewest by a Heisman-winning back since Ernie Davis went for 823 yards in 1961. His four touchdowns–a total probably depressed by the presence of goal-line back Pete Johnson (25 TDs)–is the fewest by a Heisman back in the modern two-platoon era.
It is certainly arguable that Griffin was not 1975’s most outstanding player. But his career achievements combined with his consistency and team success put him over the top against what turned out to be a rather weak field.
So what does this all mean for 2014?
For starters, I think it illustrates how all the stars had to be perfectly aligned for Griffin to become the only two-time winner. It’s hard enough to win it once, but now you have a good idea why no one else has won it twice.
And so you have to wonder what the real chances are for Jameis Winston to match Griffin, especially with such a strong field of candidates in place against him. I think that, given the presence of Marcus Mariota, Braxton Miller and Byrce Petty in the race, plus the difficult-to-match magnificence of his 2013 season, Winston’s chances of repeating are close to nil.
So how could Winston repeat? He’s on a national title contending team, but so are Mariota and Miller. If Mariota and Miller get hurt or if they have disappointing seasons, then Winston’s path would obviously be much easier. At the same time, Winston would need for no other serious candidate from a major power or title contender to emerge (as he did last season and as Johnny Manziel and others did before him). He needs for no other player to come out of nowhere a la Bary Sanders or Cam Newton and put up a season for the ages.
Finally, Winston would have to stay healthy and produce, once again, numbers that are considered Heisman-worthy. Except this time the numbers will be held to history’s standards–voters aren’t going to easily swallow the task of anointing Winston as the greatest player of all time if he doesn’t impress them statistically. Many will look for reasons not to vote for him–as some did last season–and of course many will be tired of all the hype and look for a fresh face.
Will Heisman voters feel like making history in 2014? Will they have a choice?