It’s a funny story, really.
It wasn’t televised and the only existing recording appears to be Illinois’ coach’s film. Memorial Stadium also wasn’t full that day, so the number of people that saw the game as it happened is actually even lower.
It was still one of the most memorable occurrences of Griffith’s life.
By Paul Schmidt
Griffith spoke to the press at the 20th anniversary of his 8-touchdown routing of Southern Illinois — He scored all of the Illini points save extra points that day, setting another record of 48 points in a game (breaking the record of another luminary, Syracuse’s Jim Brown, who previously held the record of 43 points).
The funniest part of Illinois’ 56-21 victory was that the Illini had to be punched in the mouth during the game. The Illini fell behind 21-7 to the Salukis early in the game, setting the stage for Griffth’s historic day.
“I think it’s really interesting when you think about all of the things that transpired to make it possible,” Griffith said. “You think about being down 21-7 against an opponent that you think you should be beating. And I’ve said this before, I don’t think that we had the respect for them that we needed, because anytime you’re playing an in-state team, there are going to be a lot of guys that feel like they should be playing in your spot.
“And I think we, particularly me, took the attitude of, “Ahhh…it’s just some guys, we’ll be out of this game quickly,” Griffith added. ”It really drives home the point that you really have to respect all of your opponents all the time.”
Griffith also doesn’t seem to think that the record has a great shot at being broken, although his answer doesn’t take into account the revised overtime rules and that those touchdowns technically count as game stats.
“Again, I think the circumstances that day, because we were down, were unique,” Griffith explained. “Because we weren’t playing well, Coach Mackovic kept us into the game in the second and even well into the third quarter. So I think the circumstances had a lot to do with it, and that will make it a tough record to get.”
Griffith was most appreciative of the opportunity the record gave him — the chance to meet Red Grange. Griffith went to Grange’s house in Lake Wales, Florida to visit him during the week leading up to the Hall of Fame Bowl, shortly before Grange’s death in early 1991.
“It afforded me the opportunity to meet one of the greatest football players of all time, if not the greatest, because if it had not been for that day, I never would have had the opportunity to meet Red Grange,” Griffith said. “And that’s what I really cherish most is the opportunity to meet the best of the best. You’re talking about a guy who not only changed college football but changed the way professional football was viewed. He was unbelievable. People were paying money to come see him, and that’s part of why his body broke down, because he had to do so many barn-burning tours. But it was outstanding.”
As an analyst of Big Ten football at the Big Ten Network, he knows that as much as the game of college football has changed, the more it has stayed the same.
“I think the way recruiting happens now, you have “new media,” as they call it, you have the Internet, you have text messages,” Griffith said. “You have all these different avenues of contact. But in the end, I still think it is the face to face meetings that have to take place.
“You talk about on the field, obviously, the players are bigger and stronger, faster, that’s just one of the byproducts of the evolution of the game,” Griffith added. “But I think at it’s core, it’s still about blocking, tackling, and running.”
But wait, 20 years ago, they still had cell phones. They were big block phones that you kept in a bag. Didn’t you have one of those, Howard?
“No, I didn’t have one,” Griffith said while laughing a lot. “I wasn’t fortunate enough to have one of those.”