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Keith Is the Last Griffin in Pro Football

August 25, 1985|CHRISTINE BRENNAN | The Washington Post

CARLISLE, Pa. — Keith Griffin, like a good referee, has never been noticed much.

He is Archie and Ray's kid brother, was a runner in the University of Miami's pass-happy offense, then became the Washington Redskins' quiet 10th-round draft pick last season.

He became quite noticeable last year when he fumbled twice in the preseason and three times in a regular season game with Buffalo, then, predictably, fell completely out of view as the season ended.

Fast-forward to 1985. Who was the back blocking on the shotgun attempt that backfired because of a high snap in the Redskins' 14-9 victory over the Raiders last Sunday?

Who came in, time and again, on crucial third-down situations?

Who ran 11 times, more than anyone else in the game, except Marcus Allen, who ran 11 times, too?

Who hasn't fumbled--in practice, in a scrimmage, in a game--once this preseason?

Griffin and the football have been inseparable this year, which is the biggest reason why he has become a favorite of the coaches and one of the steadiest players on a team overflowing with reliability.

It also is why six-year veteran Jeff Moore, a running back who was the Redskins' sixth-leading receiver with 17 catches in 1984, was released last week.

Griffin, 23, has become the Redskins' new Joe Washington, among other things.

And, with the addition of Michael Morton, an "explosive" running back and kick returner, according to Coach Joe Gibbs, there became no need to keep Moore.

"With (Morton) and Keith there, that crowded it," Gibbs said Tuesday. "With both those guys, it made it tough to keep Jeff."

It's still too early to tell if Morton, a three-year veteran from Tampa Bay, will make the team. It's not too early to tell about Griffin. Barring an injury, he's here.

"What I like about Keith is he can play every down if he had to," Gibbs said. "He can run back kicks, he can cover kicks, he can play third-down back and he can run."

If only he could kick field goals.

Were this baseball, Griffin would be a utility infielder. "Utility," he said. "That's a good word for it."

A couple things happened in the offseason that changed Griffin and his role with the Redskins. Strange as this may seem, he spent much of his time in his townhouse near Redskin Park holding a football.

"I'd be sitting watching TV and I'd see the ball across the room and I'd pick it up and start handling it, holding it," he said. "I'd just walk around the house with it, making sure to cover the points of the football with my fingers.

"Before, I had cradled it and hadn't covered the ends. I'd just run; I wasn't even paying attention to how I held the ball. Now, I'm aware of it."

Some days at practice at Dickinson College, you'll see Griffin pick up a football, hold it under one arm and use his other arm to try to hit it away from himself.

"I'm not saying I've totally solved the problem," he said, "and everybody fumbles once. But if I do it one time, everybody will say, 'He's going to do it again.' That's the pressure on me."

Factor No. 2 in Griffin's emergence was the team's decision to trade Washington to Atlanta on draft day. "When it happened," Griffin said, "I knew this would be a great opportunity for me."

Although he said he wishes he could run the ball more, he realizes there are two big reasons why he won't, at least for now: George Rogers and John Riggins.

But he gained 408 yards rushing last season, 43 receiving on only eight catches and another 164 returning nine kickoffs. It's reasonable to expect he will do better this season.

Last week, Archie, his older brother who has two Heisman trophies sitting at home, called to see how his brother was doing. Keith Griffin told him what he's been thinking all along: "I came in wanting to have a great camp. I think high. I think the best things will happen to me."

It wasn't always this way. As a junior in high school in Columbus, Ohio, Keith was feeling the pressure of being the youngest of seven football-playing brothers. He remembers walking around one summer night, looking at the stars, wondering what would become of him.

"I know it sounds strange, but this is true," he said.

"I don't know if it was the Lord or what, but I just remember to this day looking up at the sky and thinking, knowing, that my time was going to come in the NFL.

"I'll always remember that, I'll always remember that night."

Now, he is the only Griffin left in the pros. Ray, an eight-year veteran defensive back, was cut last week by Buffalo.

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