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After A Few Tough Years At Michigan, Rose Bowl Quarterback Brian Griese And His Hall Of Fame Dad Are... : Enjoying The Son Shine

December 29, 1997|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It is easy being Bob Griese's son now, but that wasn't always the case.

It wasn't so easy in 1993 when, three years after his dad was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Brian Griese couldn't get a scholarship to the University of Michigan.

The coaches were nice enough about it, suggesting Brian walk on and maybe something would open up. Sure enough, on the first day of practice someone quit and Brian got his free ride--certainly not "The Peyton Manning Story."

"When Brian Griese came to Michigan with that name, the expectations were enormous," Wolverine Coach Lloyd Carr says.

It wasn't so easy being Bob Griese's son when Brian took over the starting job for the injured Scott Dreisbach in 1995 and went 5-4.

It wasn't so terrific when Brian got arrested the next spring after an altercation in a bar, performed horribly at spring practice and lost the starting job to Dreisbach.

It wasn't so great when ABC initially wouldn't allow Keith Jackson to bellow "Whoa, Nellie" at Michigan games because his partner in the booth was Brian's conflict-of-interested father.

It wasn't easy when Bob's wife and Brian's mother, Judith Ann, died in 1988 of cancer, leaving dad and 12-year-old son alone at their Coral Cables, Fla., home to stare at each other over breakfast.

It's incredible, in retrospect, how close Brian Griese came to not being the star quarterback on Michigan's undefeated and No. 1-ranked Rose Bowl team; how close he came to chucking this once-in-a-lifetime moment away.

Decision day has been pinned down to a dinner Brian had with his older brother Jeff a few days after Michigan lost last year's Outback Bowl to Alabama.

Brian knew where his father stood.

"I knew he was frustrated, but I wanted him to go back," Bob Griese says. "Your college experience is something special. He had nothing else to do. He just didn't want to go back and go through the frustration that he'd gone through before. But I think he knew I wanted him to come back."

So, Brian sat down with Jeff, a 27-year-old banker, and ordered appetizers and advice.

"The bottom line was [Jeff] shook his hand and said, 'Brian, you're crazy,' " Bob recalls of the dinner. " 'Here, you have a chance to go back and help Michigan get to the Rose Bowl, compete for the job, and you're wanting to come out here and start working?' I think that's what kind of sold Brian."

The rest is Big Ten history. Brian returned, beat Dreisbach out for the job and has crouched behind center on a storybook ride that will culminate with Michigan's first national title since 1948 provided the Wolverines defeat Washington State in the Rose Bowl.

Along the way, Griese has completed 63.2% of his passes for 2,042 yards and 14 touchdowns and was named first team, all-Big Ten.

Brian stood at the podium Sunday, bulbs flashing, a make-shift, Pasadena-hotel conference room stuffed with reporters hanging on his every word.

Wow, was that a great dinner decision or what?

"I'd probably be in grad school right now," Griese, a philosophy major, says when asked where'd he be had he decided not to return.

"I was planning on going to graduate school anyway, even after the season. If I hadn't come back, I'd probably be out here at the game, I wouldn't miss this game for the world, but I would have been kicking myself all year, sitting at home watching Michigan football on TV knowing I could have been a part of something special."

The seed of Griese's comeback was planted last year, as he sat on the bench behind Dreisbach on a team that would lose four games for a fourth consecutive season.

"Not my most memorable experience at Michigan," Brian says. "It was tough for me at times. But I said to myself no matter what happens I'm going to be an example for the younger guys. I think my career here could be an example for guys that don't always come in as the most highly recruited athlete."

Instead of moping, Griese became a sure-handed holder on place kicks and Michigan's secret weapon as a "pooch" punter.

He got his second chance in November 1996 at Ohio State, entering the game for an injured Dreisbach with the Wolverines trailing, 9-0.

Early in the third quarter, Griese and receiver Tai Streets, who beat All-American cornerback Shawn Springs on a slant route, teamed up on a 69-yard touchdown pass play that ignited a 13-9 comeback victory.

"That said a lot about him," Carr says of Brian.

The game turned Griese's career around.

If he had not fully won his teammates over in that game, he would do so last Oct. 18 in Ann Arbor, when beloved Michigan trailed Iowa, 21-7, at the half.

Griese tossed three of his five interceptions this season in the first half of that game.

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