Culkin’s Squirrel’ Griffing back in spotlight

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 17, 2002

[04/17/02]Don’t expect Glynn Griffing to crumble during his induction speech at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame banquet.

The Culkin native has a knack for delivering on the big stage.

When NBC chose to follow him for a one-hour documentary called “The Making of a Pro” in 1963, he came through like a champ, just like he did calling the signals for Culkin Academy and Ole Miss.

“They wanted to feature someone who was going to play in New York,” said Griffing, who was a fourth-round draft choice of the Giants in 1962, when he still had a year of eligibility left. “It was one of the first documentaries of that kind.”

With the network’s cameras following his every move, he led the Rebels to their only perfect season, then topped it off by being selected Sugar Bowl MVP and Senior Bowl MVP. Then he helped the College All-Star team to a stunning 20-17 upset of the defending NFL champion Green Bay Packers.

It was only fitting that the season concluded with the Giants in the NFL title game. That’s where the Chicago Bears with fellow 2002 inductee Earl Leggett upset the storybook ending, intercepting three Y.A Tittle passes to win, 14-10.

“I really think we would have won if they would have left me in,” said Griffing, who had to hand the reins back to starter Tittle. “I always felt like I could win.”

And why wouldn’t he?

He won nearly every game he started in high school and college, leading Culkin and Ole Miss to perfect 10-0 marks in his senior seasons. The Giants, with Griffing backing up the aging Tittle, finished 11-3 with an Eastern Conference championship.

It looked like the stage was set for him to take over and help the Giants continue their winning ways … then coach Allie Sherman released him.

It was an unlikely, unceremonious, unpredictable end to Griffing’s professional football career, which had seemed so promising after he was a top candidate for NFL Rookie of the Year.

“When I was cut, it broke my heart,” Griffing said.

Getting picked up by another team wasn’t an option, he said, adding that it wasn’t uncommon for coaches to take extreme measures to prevent opponents from picking up players who could later come back and beat them.

“Back in those days, you didn’t have a chance if a coach blackballed you,” Griffing said. “(Sherman) put out the word that I had arm problems.”

Throwing the ball 74 yards for another coach didn’t help dispel the rumors. His career was over at 24, and it was hard to accept.

“I just couldn’t understand it,” he said.

Neither can Erwin Baylot, who coached him at Culkin.

“He was a very sincere, quiet, coachable player,” Baylot said of Griffing, who was 26-4 and threw 49 touchdown passes in three seasons for Culkin. “He was a very pleasant person to work with.”

Griffing admits he felt resentful “for about two years” after his NFL experience before getting himself together.

“I don’t know how my wife stuck with me through that time,” he said of Nikki, his wife of 38 years.

Football brought far more good memories than bad ones for Griffing, though.

“There’s no way I would have gone to college if it hadn’t been for football,” said Griffing, who is now president of Glynn Griffing Associates, an insurance firm that handles employee benefits. “There’s no way we could have afforded it.”

Even during the time of racial unrest at Ole Miss, Griffing and his teammates found a silver lining.

“Adversity brought us together,” he said. “It made us closer.”

What makes the 10-0 finish in 1962 so improbable is that Ole Miss didn’t play a single game on campus, which was blanketed with National Guard troops.

The Rebels, playing all of their “home” games in Memphis and Jackson, won the SEC title and the Litkenhous national championship. It’s the only time Ole Miss was ever unbeaten and untied.

Griffing was a big reason for that success.

He earned all-American honors from a number of publications, plus he was the Atlanta Touchdown Club’s SEC Back of the Year.

As part of a recruiting class that included 14 other quarterbacks, not to mention all-Americans Jake Gibbs and Doug Elmore ahead of him his first two years, Griffing distinguished himself his junior year. He finished fourth in the nation with 10 touchdown passes, and he still holds the school’s single-season record for yards per play (8.1). His first pass of the season was a 60-yard scoring strike to Wesley Sullivan.

As a senior, he had his breakout game against Houston, going 12-of-18 for 215 yards and four touchdowns in a 40-7 win. He then got national attention against LSU in a hard-fought 15-7 victory. He was 15-of-25 for 142 yards and two touchdowns, plus he ran for 71 yards.

Afterward, LSU coach Charley McClendon said: “Griffing is by far the most effective Ole Miss quarterback we have ever played against, and that’s saying a lot … .”

He was voted Most Outstanding Player of the Sugar Bowl after going 15-of-25 for a then-record 242 yards.

Razorbacks coach Frank Broyles said then, “He’s the best college quarterback in America. In fact, he’s the best college passer I’ve ever seen.”

After that, he threw three TD passes in the Senior Bowl and was selected MVP.

Griffing didn’t get to start the College All-Star game in Chicago.

He was beat out by Ron Vander Kelen sort of. Coach Otto Graham “flipped a quarter to decide,” Griffing recalled, laughing. “He was a real interesting fellow.”

When Griffing did get on the field, notorious Packers linebacker Ray Nitschke introduced himself.

“He walked up, leaned over the center and told me exactly what he was going to do to me … you can’t print what he said,” Griffing said, laughing. “On TV, he looked bad, but in person, he really looked bad. I said, You’re going to have to catch me first.’ ”

Few people could catch the man nicknamed “Squirrel” for reasons only ex-Rebel teammate Billy Brewer knows.

“I was walking through the locker room one day and he said, Squirrel’ … you learn not to ask a lot of questions. There was quite a bit of hazing back then,” he said.

At Culkin, Griffing ran a 10.1-second 100-yard dash, and the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder ran a 10-flat at Ole Miss, which helped make him an above-average defensive back.

He played baseball his freshman year but had to quit before his sophomore year to recover from injuries to his knee and ankle.

Griffing said his family daughters Kim and Sandi; sisters Frances and Laverne and brother Bobby is excited for him.

He got some speech-writing help from his son-in-law, former Millsaps Sports Information Director Trey Porter. He said it will be about 10 minutes.

“It’s not all sports,” he said. “There are some personal things of interest. People in Vicksburg will recognize a lot of the names.”

One of those is W.C. Sullivan, who was Culkin’s principal.

“He was quite a character,” Griffing recalled. “He’s the one who pushed me to go to Ole Miss.”

Griffing remembers his career fondly, but the honors and accomplishments aren’t what’s important to him now.

“I’m so grateful for the relationships I developed through football over the years,” he said. “Fame is wonderful, but it doesn’t last friendships do.”