#TBT Sports Blog: Jamaican Bobsled Team

MIKE Comic 135 Jamaican BobsledToday’s #TBT sports blog recalls a Winter Olympic Games fan favorite.

It may not have been a podium favorite in Sochi, Russia six years ago, but the Jamaican Bobsled Team was always a crowd pleaser.

Led by pilot Winston Watts, the Jamaican Team returned to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Russia after failing to qualify in 2006 in Torino, Italy and in 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.

In spite of losing their luggage in route to Sochi, the Jamaicans maintained their generally upbeat attitudes.  They eventually received their runners (blades for sleds), helmets, sliding suits and shoes and immediately took to the Sanki Sliding Center for practice runs.

It was the sixth Olympics for the unlikely Winter Olympians from a Caribbean Island. The Watts’ led two-man team is excited about competing. And, an adoring public is thrilled to have the improbable bobsledders back at the games. The team raised more than $170,000 via crowd sourcing in order to come to Sochi to compete.

The Jamaicans’ story ranks as one of the most memorable in sports history, leaving no doubt why they are once again fan favorites.

Having Winter Olympic dreams when you hail from a tropical island takes plenty of guts. Known for its sandy beaches, reggae music, mountain grown coffee and bottled rum, Jamaica became the first tropical nation to field a team in an Olympic winter sport.

The Jamaican Bobsled Team Debuted in 1992 in Calgary

The Jamaican Bobsled Team debuted at the Calgary Games in Canada in 1988. They comprised a four person team with little practice, no international experience and some borrowed sleds.

Obvious underdogs, Devon Harris, Michael White, Dudley Stokes and Nelson Stokes of the Jamaican squad struggled in Calgary. They finished last among all competitors in the event, but captured the hearts of fans and the keen interest of the international media.

This unlikely bobsled team is the brainchild of American businessmen George Fitch and Michael Fennel. The two were inspired when watching Jamaica’s annual push cart derby in Kingston and quickly determined that push carting and bobsledding required similar skills.

Originally thought to be a joke, then explained as a brilliant marketing ploy, the Jamaican Bobsled Team continued to hone their craft and surprised many of those who doubted them.

Jamiacan Bobsled Team Inspired the Movie “Cool Runnings”

The Jamaicans qualified again, but performed poorly during the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France. Unexpectedly, their heroic efforts and unlikely story caught the attention of Hollywood. Disney Studios told their incredible story in a popular 1993 movie called Cool Runnings, with the late actor John Candy starring as coach.

In 1994, an undaunted Jamaican Bobsled Team returned to the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Here, they enjoyed their greatest international success. The team, also known as the Hottest Thing on Ice, finished 14th and bested other more heavily favored teams from the United States, Russia, France and Italy.

The Jamaican Bobsled Team has since expanded. It now features two- and four-man teams as well as a two person squad comprised of women from the Jamaican Defense Force.

Although the Jamaican Bobsled Team did not medal in Sochi, their inspiring story makes them special. They are champions at heart and reflect the true spirit of the Olympic Games.

Ya Man! These Jamaicans be jammin’.

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#TBT Sports Blog: NBA Icon “Dr. J” Julius Erving

NBA great Julius Erving

Today’s #TBT sports blog features one of my NBA hardwood heroes.

Mention the name Dr. J and sports fans will immediately recognize this basketball legend.

“Dr. J,” or Julius Erving, revolutionized the game of basketball. He elevated it to a much higher level. Erving’s amazing athleticism changed the NBA style of play from a below the rim pick and roll game to an entertaining aerial act above the basket.

Erving’s brilliantly flashy play created a new basketball vocabulary. It featured innovative terms that included “slam dunk,” “no look pass” and “cross over dribble.”

Julius Erving probably never sought a medical degree. He probably can’t read a hospital chart, hold a scalpel correctly or perform surgery. But, this self-styled basketball doctor knew exactly how to operate on the basketball court.

A high school friend originally named him “Doctor” when Erving referred to his friend as “Professor.” The “Doctor” nickname turned into Dr. J and eventually stuck for the rest of his career.

Dr. J’s game on the hardwood brought a new level of excellence to the NBA. Julius’ style of play brought new life to basketball in the same way great laboratory discoveries bring new life into the medical profession.

Erving dissected opponents on the basketball court as easily as an experienced medical professional handles a scalpel.

“Dr. J” Julius Erving Named One of 50 Greatest Players Ever

In addition to being named one of the fifty greatest basketball players of all time, the 6’7” and 210 lb. Dr. J was admired for his individual expression of talent on the court. Off the court, he became known as an unofficial ambassador and spokesman for the game of basketball.

Dr. J won both an ABA title as well as an NBA title. He also received three MVP Awards in the ABA and another in the NBA.

An 11-time NBA All Star during his Hall of Fame career, this Doctor may have never been a medical expert.

But as a basketball player and a representative of the game, Dr. J knew how to operate as the consummate professional while on or away from the hardwood.

MIKE – thee ultimate talking head on sports!

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#TBT Sports Blog: Detroit Pistons Guard Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson

Former Detroit Pistons Vinnie JohnsonToday’s #TBT sports blog rewinds the clock to the 1989 and 1990 NBA seasons.

During those back-to-back Detroit Pistons championship years, starting guards Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars were voted Most Valuable Players in the NBA Finals respectively.

However, muscular back-up guard Vinnie Johnson emerged as the team’s unwitting celebrity as he became known as the team’s Most Valuable Appliance.

That’s because all NBA fans knew Johnson as the Microwave.

According to NBA.com writer John Maxwell, “The Microwave was one of the most colorful and appropriate nicknames in recent sports history.”

The Microwave Nickname

Johnson’s instant offense and rugged defense, coupled with an irrepressible nickname, also made him the #1 choice in my sports comic book titled NBA Favorites.

NBA FavoritesSome basketball fans may think other NBA players or teams are more worthy than Vinnie Johnson to be #1 in this book, but remember this is my book and I loved the Microwave!

Vinnie Johnson earned the Microwave nickname as an electrifying scorer off the bench for the Pistons. Johnson was the great sixth man for the Pistons that brought immediate scoring off the bench. When entering the game, he never needed time to defrost. His energy level, or power, was always set on a microwave high.

During the 1985 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the favored Boston Celtics, Johnson scored an incredible 22 points in the fourth quarter during the Pistons’ 102 – 99 comeback victory. Johnson’s scoring led Celtics star guard Danny Ainge to remark, “If that guy (William Perry) in Chicago is the Refrigerator, then Vinnie Johnson is the Microwave. He sure heated up in a hurry.”

Before his kitchen appliance fame, the Seattle Supersonics drafted the Microwave as their number one draft choice in the 1979 NBA Draft. Johnson’s draft status was high following his amazing senior season at Baylor. The 6’2” and 200 lbs. guard played two seasons in Seattle before being traded to the Pistons. In Detroit, he remained with the franchise for the next 10 years. The Pistons eventually honored Johnson by retiring his number 15 jersey in 1994.

Vinnie Johnson’s NBA Playoff Highlight

This solidly built NBA guard finished his career in 1992 with 11,825 total points. His greatest NBA moment occurred with 00.7 seconds remaining in Game 5 of the 1990 NBA Finals. Johnson’s 15 foot game winning shot helped the Pistons defeat the Portland Trailblazers 92 – 90 and capture their second consecutive NBA Championship. Johnson was never named to an NBA All-Star team.

Yet, Vinnie Johnson’s Microwave label earned him top billing here in NBA Favorites. His clever moniker is sure to heat up and quickly decide any debate about whose nickname is tops in NBA history.

That’s because scores of NBA fans like me also loved the Microwave!

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MIKE – thee ultimate talking head on sports!

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#TBT Sports Blog: The NHL Golden Jet Bobby Hull

Chicago Blackhawks Bobby HullLike an easy open net goal, former Chicago Blackhawks great Bobby Hull effortlessly skates into today’s #TBT sports blog.

If you’ve ever visited Chicago’s United Center, you’ve seen his bronze statue standing proudly beside Bulls legend Michael Jordan and fellow Blackhawk great Stan Mikita.

Though he never actually skated inside this cavernous arena, Bobby Hull will always be remembered for what he accomplished as a Chicago Blackhawk, long before the team moved from the Old Chicago Stadium to its gleaming new home.

During his 23 year career, this legendary left winger played in both the established NHL as well as the then fledgling WHA.

Hull will always be wedded to the franchise that originally drafted him and ultimately lionized him with his life-sized likeness.

Bobby Hull Epitomized His Golden Jet Nickname

Between 1952 and 1980, Hull epitomized his Golden Jet nickname in more ways than one. The brilliant, blond haired Hockey Hall of Famer skated at an astounding 29.7 mph. In addition to his amazing speed on the ice, Hull recorded a 118.3 mph slap shot, making him the most physically gifted – and feared – hockey player of his generation.

Hull’s shot strength and banana bladed hockey stick proved such a lethal combination, especially for maskless goalies, that the NHL minimized the curvature of the sticks to reduce the danger (of his strokes / strikes).

Besides incomparable speed and a killer shot, Hull possessed an uncanny ability to put the puck in the net. In 1966, he became the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season, a feat he replicated another four times.

Hull led the NHL in scoring an impressive seven times, while accumulating career NHL total numbers of 610 goals and 560 assists in his 1,063 games.

Without doubt, Bobby Hull is best remembered as a Blackhawk for having won the 1961 Stanley Cup, two Hart Memorial trophies and three Art Ross trophies. In deference to the legend, the Hawks retired Hull’s famous #9 jersey, which he originally wore as a tribute to his own idol Gordie Howe.

Hull made hockey history following his earlier accolades and awards. In 1972, he eschewed the Chicago franchise to become the face of the new World Hockey Association. His decision also captured headlines because the Hartford Whalers signed him to the most lucrative hockey contract ever: $1.75 million over 10 years with a then-whopping $1 million signing bonus.

Hull went on to become the WHA’s greatest player ever. He scored a never before seen 77 goals during the 1974 – 75 season and led his squad to three AVCO or WHA championships.

There’s no doubt why The Hockey News named Hull #8 on its list of top 100 hockey players ever.

It’s also why The Golden Jet is revered as the most venerated hockey star in Chicago Blackhawks history.

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#TBT Sports Blog: Boston Bruins’ Bobby Orr

MIKE Comic 219 Bobby OrrToday’s #TBT sports blog remembers Bobby Orr, the Boston Bruins’ most celebrated hockey player ever.

In 1964 the Boston Bruins boldly gambled when signing a fresh freckle-faced 14 year-old from Parry Sound, Ontario.

The Bruins’ pick is my #5 choice in my new FREE sports comic book Boston Sports Icons.

Undersized at just 5’6” and weighing in at only 135 lbs., Bobby Orr lived with his parents during his first season with the Bruins’ Junior A hockey team, the Oshawa Generals.

Despite his small size, Orr’s incredible speed and amazing skill at such a young age failed to disappoint. The phenomenal prospect not only grew taller, gained strength and developed a keen awareness for the game. He also demonstrated a superb hockey ability that prompted the Boston Bruins to promote him just four years later. As an 18 year-old, he had matured into an immensely talented 6’ tall and 200 lb. defense man.

Bobby Orr quickly flourished in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and earning the respect of both teammates and Bruins competitors. Whenever he took the ice, #4 distinguished himself with an enviable all-around game. In addition to making hard checks and blocking slap shots, he showed his strength and toughness by moving opponents away from the net and even fighting when needed.

Injury Shortened Bobby Orr’s Stellar Career

Although his career was shortened due to nagging knee injuries, Bobby Orr’s name is immediately mentioned when fans discuss all-time NHL greats like Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby.

Throughout his 12 year career, Orr displayed excellence on the ice. A speedy defense man with exceptional puck skills, Orr collected a closet full of NHL hardware during his days as a Boston Bruin.

Bobby Orr earned just about every regular season NHL award a player could receive: the Colder Trophy as the 1968 Rookie-of-the-Year; two-time Ross Trophy winner for total points in a season; three-time Hart Trophy recipient for MVP and eight Norris Trophy selections as the league’s best defense man.

Orr rightfully belongs in any conversation involving NHL’s all-time best players. His career highlights came in 1970 and again in 1972. In both years, he led the Bruins to Stanley Cup Championships and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup Finals MVP.

Bobby Orr’s Career Highlight

Perhaps Orr’s most memorable career highlight is his overtime goal during Game 4 of the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals. An iconic picture of an air born Orr with his stick raised in front of the St. Louis Blues’ goal after scoring the series winning goal is widely regarded as one of the top photos in sports history.

The Bruins rewarded their star by signing him in 1971 to the most lucrative hockey contract ever. Orr inked the first $1 million deal in hockey history by agreeing to play for five years at $200K per season.

Unfortunately, Orr’s hard charging style of play caught up with him. His fabulous career eventually succumbed to knee injuries and this incredible defense man retired in 1978.

The Hockey Hall of Fame wasted no time in recognizing this amazing athlete. It enshrined him into their illustrious family a year later.

A once small and undersized prospect, Bobby Orr became a force on the ice and a huge star for the Boston Bruins.

Boston Sports Stars and LandmarksIt’s no surprise that #4 easily skates into the #5 spot in my book Boston Sports Icons.

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Enjoy the read and feel free to share the ebook with your family, friends and co-workers.

In the free sports comic book, you can also read about other Boston sports luminaries like Tom Brady, Larry Bird, Big Papi, Yaz, the Old Boston Garden, Fenway Park and more. Each chapter chronicles the exploits of great Boston athletes and landmarks and also includeds unique sports comics extolling the Boston sports icons.

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Thanks again for reading my weekly #TBT sports blog.

MIKE – thee ultimate talking head on sports!

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#TBT Sports Blog: Former NHL MVP Super Mario Lemieux

NHL great Mario Lemieux

Today’s #TBT sports blog focuses on a former Stanley Cup champion and incredible overcoming athlete.

My post blog centers on former Pittsburgh Penguins center Super Mario Lemieux.

Let’s take a look back at this hockey hero.

The likeable hero of the top selling video game series of all time was introduced during the rookie season of one of the most admired National Hockey League’s players ever.

Beginning in 1985, Nintendo’s Super Mario Brothers reigned over video game sales. That same year, Super Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins began dominating NHL games with his speed, strength and superb hockey skill.

Boston Bruins great Bobby Orr once remarked that Mario Lemieux, nicknamed Super Mario, was the most talented hockey player he had ever seen. Lemieux’s excellence on the ice allowed him to lead the NHL in scoring six times. He also won the Hart Trophy three times as the league’s Most Valuable Player.

Mario Lemieux: 1999 Hockey Hall of Fame Inductee

A 1997 inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame, big #66 finished his hockey career with 690 goals and 1,033 assists. He was the only player ever to score five goals in different ways in a single game. These goals included an empty net, power play, penalty shot, shorthanded and full strength.

The 6’4″ and 235 lb. French Canadian’s career highlights include an Olympic Gold Medal in 2002, a World Cup of Hockey Championship in 2004 and two NHL Stanley Cup Championships in 1991 and 1992.

Lemieux also won a third title in 2009 as Chairman of the Board of the same NHL team he played for, the Pittsburgh Penguins, whom he rescued out of bankruptcy.

Super Mario Overcame Disease and Back Problems

The former Penguin battled injuries and illness that sidelined him for several seasons. Lemieux overcame back problems and a bout with Hodgkins disease to return to the ice after he had already retired. He proved that hockey’s Super Mario trumps any video game heroics and is much more than just a hockey hero.

Video game icon Super Mario may have shown off his heroics by successfully saving Princess Toadstool from her nemesis Bowser during their valiant Nintendo struggles.

However, ice hockey hero Super Mario Lemieux repeatedly showed bravery, courage and an amazing personal drive.

That’s why he effortlessly skates in at #1 in my sports comic book Favorite Overcoming Athletes. Click HERE to safely download from Amazon.

In addition to Super Mario Lemieux, you can read about Jason Kidd, Ian Thorpe, Jackie Robinson, Three Finger Brown, Bernard Hopkins and other amazing overcoming athletes.

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MIKE – thee ultimate talking head on sports!

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Football’s Instant Replay: A Game Changer in Sports Viewing

NFL instant replay

More than 40 years ago this month a significant game changer in sports television viewing occurred.

On December 7, 1963, CBS Sports introduced Tony Verna’s instant replay concept during the Army vs. Navy football game at the old Municipal Stadium in Philadelphia, PA.

Verna’s creation initially confused some Army vs. Navy game viewers who ironically thought they were witnessing their team scoring again in the exact same way.

 

However, the instant replay concept quickly caught on and has been forever embraced by fans in every conceivable sport.

The Directors Guild of America presented Verna with its Lifetime Achievement Award and named his instant replay creation as #33 in the greatest moments on television.

Since 1963, Verna’s legacy has flourished and today’s sports fans probably could never imagine watching a game without it.

Impatient NFL Fans Now Mutter That Instant Replay is Anything But Instant Anymore

However, some highly impatient NFL fans now mutter that Verna’s football instant replay is anything but instant anymore.

Complaining about booth reviews and the seemingly endless time NFL refs spend under the hood, football fans claim they can read thousands of pages of Congressional legislation – twice – faster than a ref can sort out the very same play that he and his NFL officiating crew just witnessed live only a few minutes before.

Football fans at home even weigh in on the now controversial topic. They believe they can raid the refrigerator, hit the head and update their fantasy picks, then find themselves stewing on the sofa as the zebra clad man slowly and seriously studies replays from every conceivable angle.

A ref’s decision should be easy, but it’s NOT. The implications of instant replay are too far reaching to get the call wrong.

The actions of the main man in stripes always seems slower than that of a slug’s. But, in spite of the painful waiting time, the officials’ calls are preponderantly correct.

And, fidgety sports fans have the late Tony Verna to thank.

R.I.P. Tony Verna. And, thanks for envisioning the concept of instant replay in spite of how endlessly long it has become on occassion.

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MIKE – thee ultimate talking head on sports!

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#TBT Sports Blog: Broad Street Bullies’ Bobby Clarke

Former Philadelphia Flyers Bobby ClarkeToday’s #TBT sports blog remembers my favorite hockey player of all-time – Bobby Clarke – who once starred for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Seems like only yesterday that Clarke was skating effortlessly up and down the old Spectrum Arena ice in Philadelphia in his orange, black and white #16 Flyers jersey.

Now, long since retired and 66 years-old, this Flin Flon, Manitoba native became a three-time NHL Most Valuable Player.

He also skated his way into the hearts of hockey fans everywhere.

That’s because Bobby Clarke personified old-school hockey. He played without a helmet and hit about as hard as any player who ever took the ice. The Flyers captain was easily recognizable by his wide, toothless smile, long curly blond hair and incredible skill on skates.

The 17th pick of the 1969 NHL Draft, Clarke played his entire career for the Flyers franchise. Even after retiring, Clarke continued with the organization for many years first as General Manager and most recently as a Senior Vice President. He’s still Philadelphia’s greatest player ever, holding team records in total points and games played. He also appeared in eight NHL All-Star games.

As the Flyers captain, Clarke excelled during the 1970s. In both 1974 and 1975, he led the notorious Broad Street Bullies to back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships.

Known for winning face-offs and for relentlessly checking opponents, Clarke also teamed with Reggie Leach and Bill Barber to form one of the best lines in hockey history. The Flyers’ LCB Line scored 141 goals in the 1975 – 1976 season and was instrumental in the Flyers’ championship seasons the two previous years.

Bobby Clarke: A Three time NHL MVP Winner

Clarke also distinguished himself individually. The NHL awarded him the Hart Trophy three times as the league’s Most Valuable Player.

This 1987 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee’s greatest accomplishment may be the fact that he brilliantly played the rough and tumble sport for 15 years.

A diabetic, Clarke suffered several serious seizures early in his career. He was also prone to exhaustion and infection. The NHL feared that it wouldn’t be safe for him to play in the league.

But, #16 showed his resilience and proved the league wrong. Bobby Clarke strictly followed a diet to manage his diabetes and played brilliantly for a championship franchise during his lengthy NHL career.

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That’s why this fearless Philadelphia Flyer also checks in at #9 in Favorite Flyers in Sports available for 99 cents on Amazon.

Favorite Flyers in SportsClick on the red cover above and safely download Favorite Flyers in Sports from Amazon.

Read about former Philadelphia Flyer Bobby Clarke as well as basketball high flyers Vince Carter, Herman “The Helicopter” Knowings,The Human Highlight Reel Dominique Wilkins and even college basketball’s favorite dunking “fraternity” Phi Slamma Jamma.

You can also enjoy chapters on track’s Jesse “The Buckeye Bullet” Owens, the sports world’s iconic Goodyear Blimp, retired NFL WR Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and the heralded Dutch track star “The Flying Housewife.”

MIKE – thee ultimate talking head on sports!

MIKE Sports Comic: Hockey Footer

#TBT Sports Blog: Lou Holtz & ESPN College Game Day

ESPN sportscaster Lou Holtz

Today’s #TBT sports blog remembers the immensely likeable, former ESPN College Game Day commentator Lou Holtz.

His sterling studio schtick always earned him a spot in my living room each fall weekend.

Sure, the retired little Lou looked like he never played a lick and probably could never bench press a broom.

But, for cryin’ out loud – as this charismatic old coaching codger liked to say – I absolutely loved Lou Holtz as a talking head and co-anchor with Mark May during ESPN College Game Day broadcasts.

Lou Holtz’s Candid ESPN Coverage

Lou Holtz’s candid ESPN college football coverage always carried clout!

Viewers were smitten by the outspoken purity of this grandfatherly pigskin pundit and television’s a-typical talking head.

Who cared if this retired coach sported a face for radio rather than network television?

His colorful commentating was welcome in my living room any day of the week.

The former Notre Dame, South Carolina and Minnesota head football coach may have mis-pronunciated, inarticulated and mis-syllabicated whenever he opened his mouth.

But, what fan really cared?

The immensely loveable Lou emanated total trust.

He prognosticated with passion and purpose.

Most importantly, he generated unbridled enthusiasm from the ESPN Sports Center Studio.

Football fans looked quickly past his saucer shaped spectacles and learned to live with his lovable lisp.

They humored him for his histrionics and hair-brained hunches.

Why? Because they, too, absolutely loved Lou Holtz!

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MIKE – thee ultimate talking head on sports!

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#TBT Sports Blog: Two-Time Heisman Trophy Winner Archie Griffin

MIKE Comic 130 Archie GriffinCollege football’s only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, Archie Griffin, effortlessly rushes into today’s #TBT sports blog.

A former standout for the Ohio State University Buckeyes, Archie Griffin led the Big Ten in rushing for three consecutive seasons.

The 1974 and 1975 Heisman Trophy recipient is the only player in Big Ten history to win four Big Ten football titles and start in four Rose Bowl games.

Legendary Ohio State University football coach Woody Hayes called Archie Griffin the best football player he had ever seen. Few people, even Michigan Wolverine diehards, would disagree.

Despite his short 5’9” stature, Griffin utilized incredible speed and power to consistently break multiple tackles every time he carried the football. It’s no surprise that today’s #TBT sports blog features Griffin’s many college football exploits.

Griffin’s Ohio State Debut Was Forgettable

Ironically, Griffin did not begin his storied college career as one might expect. In his first game as a freshman running back in 1972, the Buckeye fumbled his only possession of the game and returned to the sidelines.

However, the Buckeyes running back bounced back quickly. In his second game as a freshman, Griffin ran for an amazing 239 yards. He proceeded to rush for 100 yards or more for 31 consecutive games, an NCAA record.

Archie Griffin’s incredible college career culminated in 1976 when he was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 24th pick in the 1st round. He played for the Bengals for seven seasons.

Soon after, Griffin returned to his home town of Columbus, OH where Ohio State is also located. The modest two-time Heisman winner was immediately welcomed into the school’s administration and eventually became President of the School’s Alumni Association.

Two-Time Heisman Winner Archie Griffin’s Famous Quote

Archie Griffin’s apparent toughness, speed and power are best remembered in a quote credited to this former Buckeye, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”

College football history clearly shows that former Ohio State Buckeye and two-time Heisman Trophy Archie Griffin winner possessed a whole lot of bark and bite whenever he carried the football.

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MIKE – thee ultimate talking head on sports!

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