STEUBENVILLE - Football great Archie Griffin told community leaders Thursday he thinks his alma mater has paid dearly for rules violations by its former football coach and players.
The two-time Heisman winner was guest speaker at the 103rd-annual Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce awards banquet at the Finnegan Fieldhouse on the campus of the Franciscan University of Steubenville.
Griffin, the only two-time Heisman winner in the award's history, acknowledges the ensuing scandal has "been embarrassing" to the storied university and a huge blow to the school's football program: The Buckeyes lost five players, including quarterback Terrelle Pryor, for the first five games of the 2011 season for accepting cash and tattoos from a local tattoo parlor, and Coach Jim Tressel resigned in May after reports surfaced that he was aware of the rules violations and failed to report them. Three more players were disciplined this year after admitting they'd accepted cash to appear at a charity event in Cleveland, also an NCAA rules violation.
"We made some mistakes at the university and we've paid dearly for it," he said. "We lost a man who I think was the best football coach in America, we lost a quarterback who would almost certainly have been a Heisman candidate, we've got people who are still on suspension - that's a big penalty that we've paid for those mistakes."
The 57-year-old Griffin, a three-time All-American at Ohio State, played for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1976-82, including a 26-21 loss to San Francisco in Super Bowl XVI. He's currently president and chief executive officer of Ohio State's 135,000-member alumni association
He told the crowd of some 450 chamber members on hand for the event that he'd been blessed to be surrounded by people throughout his life who "inspired" him to succeed-his parents, a junior high guidance counselor, his high school football coach and Ohio State's legendary Woody Hayes-and felt obligated to make sure he did the same for others.
CHAMBER HONOREES — The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce held its 103rd-annual dinner and meeting Thursday in the Finnegan Fieldhouse on the campus of the Franciscan University of Steubenville. The keynote speaker was Archie Griffin, the president and CEO of the Ohio State University Alumni Association. Griffin became the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy while playing at Ohio State in the mid-1970s. Among those honored at the event were, from left, front, Chrissy Taylor of Apollo Cleaning, the ambassador of the year; Nino and Dawn Scaffidi, owners of Scaffidi’s Pasta, the new business of the year; John Criss, winner of the lifetime achievement award; and John Cucarese of New York Life, the businessperson of the year; back, Tom Timmons, Edward Littlejohn, William Hendricks, board members, and Mike McVey, superintendent of Steubenville City Schools, which was honored as the organization of the year. - John Newbrough/Newbrough Photo
"Paying it forward - to me, it's a central part of being a leader," he said, later encouraging them to "live your lives in a way that those around you are inspired to someday stand up and say you made a difference in their life."
Griffin created a scholarship fund to help Ohio State's Olympic sports programs and with his wife, Bonita, formed another fund that helps develop sports, educational, and travel programs for youth in central Ohio.
"I feel like you have to volunteer, you have to do something that helps others," he said. "I feel like you have to pay it forward."
Griffin accepted a $3,000 donation from Wal-Mart Distribution Center on behalf of the Brightway Center, a 175-acre faith-based retreat in Smithfield that was the vision of the late Kara "Coby" Bright, a longtime football and basketball coach in the area and an Ohio State grad. Griffin's brother, Daryle, serves on Brightway's board.
Receiving awards at the banquet were John Cucarese with New York Life, businessperson of the year; Steubenville City Schools, organization of the y0ear; and Chrissy Taylor of Apollo Professional Cleaning, ambassador of the year. Dawn and Nino Scaffidi, owners of Scaffidi's Pasta, took home honors as new business of the year, while longtime chamber member and community leader John Criss received the chamber's lifetime achievement award.