Every week or so, I’ll be delving into each team’s franchise history to shine the spotlight on a player who hasn’t received the recognition he rightfully deserved. outside of that fan base. All teams have players who come into the organization, work hard day in an day out, do everything that’s asked of them, and ride off into the sunset with little to no fanfare. This series is meant to give these players their due diligence.
Howard Griffith: The Human Plow
Much like mules on a farm who pave the way for crops, fullbacks are known for carving out running lanes in NFL offenses. That is how the 6′, 230-pound Howard Griffith earned the nickname “The Human Plow” during his time with the Denver Broncos. Fullbacks rarely garner the attention they may deserve, Griffith included.
Before we get into his time with the Broncos, I’d be remiss not to at least mention the night where Howard Griffith was on top of the world. On September 22, 1990, the No. 15 Fighting Illini of Illinois met the Southern Illinois Salukis at Memorial Stadium. After a quarter of play, Griffith -the senior starter at running back- and the Illini found themselves down 21-7. By the final whistle, Griffith had made history by finishing the game with 8 rushing touchdowns, an NCAA record that stands to this day, en route to a 56-21 victory.
Landing in the Perfect Situation
After spending two bottom-dwelling seasons with the Rams and one with the expansion Panthers, it looked as if Griffith was going to have all of his hard work go unnoticed with nothing to show for it. After the Panthers went 12-4 in his final season in Carolina, he found himself in Denver, lining up beside one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game.
Not only was Denver a great situation for Griffith because of the surrounding cast, but because the coaching staff knew how to utilize him, though it did take them a season to do so. In 1997, Griffith saw a career-low 26 touches in the offense, but paved the way for backfield teammate Terrell Davis to take over games with his running abilities.
A year later, the defending Super Bowl champions knew they’d need a new facet of their offense to keep some of the pressure off of Elway and the rest of the skill players. So they looked to Griffith, who answered the call. With a minute role (outside of his blocking, of course), Griffith produced in a big way. On just 15 receptions, he was able to score on 3 of them. He scored 10 percent of the times he was targeted and 20 percent of the times he caught the ball.
Griffith also found success taking the handoff from Elway. On just 4 carries in 1998, he scored 3 touchdowns. Granted, these were all near the goal line with offenses focused on Davis and all of Elway’s other toys in the offense, but you can’t take away Griffith’s effort.
Six touchdowns on 21 touches is a ratio just about any coach would be happy with out of his fullback.