Neighbor: Griffin achieves lifelong dream

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 25, 2001

Features Editor

Jan. 25, 2001 10 PM

If Cornelius Griffin could have written a script for his rookie season in the National Football League, he probably would not have dared to pinnacle it with a trip to the Super Bowl.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

However, Griffin and his New York Giants teammates did get to write the script for the 2000 football season, but they didn’t write it with pen and ink. They wrote it, instead, in sweat and grime on the gridiron and, surprisingly if not shockingly, they scratched themselves a berth in Super Bowl XXXV.

Griffin, a former Pike County High School and University of Alabama star, is not among those who are surprised and shocked to find the Giants in Tampa this week. In fact, Griffin said he told his mother early in the season that he thought his team was good enough to make it to the Super Bowl.

"I thought all along that we had a chance," Griffin said in telephone interview from Tampa. "I’m not surprised at all."

Maybe he’s not surprised, but Griffin knows he is blessed to be playing in the Super Bowl, especially in his rookie season.

"I’ve got teammates who have played for a long time and this is their first trip to the Super Bowl," he said. "One of the guys has been playing for 16 years and this is his first Super Bowl. I’m blessed to be here and I know it."

Griffin has come a long way from a small Main Street Alabama town to the grand stage of big-time professional football.

As he sat in a hotel room in Tampa waiting for the biggest game of his young life, Griffin had time to reflect on the choices he made that brought him to the top of the sports world.

After graduating from Pike County High School in Brundidge, Griffin played junior college football at Pearl River Community College in Mississippi before heading to the Capstone and big-time college football.

However, tragedy struck and Griffin almost turned away from football.

On June 8, 1998, Griffin’s dad, Willie Griffin Jr., was killed in an automobile accident. A drunk driver hit him head on. His dad’s death brought the world crashing down on Griffin and his thoughts were of his mother, family and home.

However, a few days after his dad’s funeral, Griffin got into his car and headed toward Tuscaloosa. About a hour into the trip, he turned the car around and headed back home. But, he couldn’t shake his dad’s words to always face life in a positive way.

He knew what his dad would have wanted him to do, so he did a "U" turn back toward Tuscaloosa.

"You have choices in life," Griffin said, "You can take the right path or the wrong path. So, I try to take the right one."

Griffin’s philosophy of life has made him a model citizen and a model athlete. His commitment to choose the right path has paved the way for him to succeed on and off the field.

New York Giants Head Coach Jim Fassel was quoted in the Giants Stadium Edition of NFL Insider Magazine as saying, "(Cornelius) is an outstanding young man. I’ve said to everybody this guy could end up being one of the best picks we’ve had around here for a while. He has the tools. He has the talent. He’s got the demeanor. He’s a pleasant, nice guy, but when you get him on the field, he has a motor. He’s a very sincere guy. I like him. I like the way he handles himself. He’s hard working. He’s very low maintenance. He doesn’t need anything. He doesn’t ask for anything. You never see him on the injury report, never have trouble with him. Always in meetings on time, always practices hard. You never have to say anything to the guy. If you watch him, he can play this game. He’s a fierce competitor, but he does it with a smile on his face."

Those glowing remarks from Fassel are sure to have put a smile on Griffin’s face, but nothing has put a smile on his face like the opportunity to play for a world championship and a Super Bowl ring.

Because that opportunity has come in his rookie season, Griffin doesn’t know what it’s like to play year after year in hopes of making it to the Super Bowl, but he knows what it feels like from a rookie’s perspective and "It’s a dream come true."

Griffin has to pinch himself often to make sure that what he’s experiencing isn’t just a dream.

"It’s unbelievable," he said. "There is so much hype surrounding the Super Bowl, but I’m not getting all caught up in that. I’m trying to keep my focus on Sunday – on the game. That’s why we’re here. That’s what we’ve worked for all season. We want to make the best of it."

And, when the whistle sounds on Sunday afternoon, Cornelius Griffin will block out everything except his mission – to do what he can to help the New York Giants claim the title "Super Bowl Champions."

It was only a year ago that Griffin was absorbing the Crimson Tide’s heartbreaking loss to Michigan in the Orange Bowl. It was less than a year ago, that he was wondering what his chances were in the National Football League draft. He knew the Giants were interested in him. He would gladly play for them or any team that dialed his number. But, for some reason, the Alabama defensive lineman was hoping the Giants would take him.

The Giants had a first round-grade on him, but they desperately needed a running back so they took Ron Dayne in the first round. The Giants were surprised to find Griffin still around for their second-round pick and they quickly grabbed him as the 42nd player taken overall in the 2000 draft.

Griffin is proving to be one of the steals of the entire selection process.

Although he is not a starter for the Giants, Griffin is called "the big, play rookie."

As the Giants were making a bid to win the NFC East, they were headed toward a showdown with the Washington Redskins on Dec. 3.

The talk in the locker room was about veteran leadership, but it was the rookie, Griffin, who provided the spark that led the Giants to a gigantic win over the Skins.

On the Redskins first possession in the crucial showdown with the Giants, they faced a third and one from their 31, Brad Johnson tried to throw for a first down but he never got the pass away because Griffin sacked him for a three-yard loss.

The next time the Redskins got the ball, they moved to the Giants 29. The Redskins sent their premier running back, Stephen Davis, up the middle only to have him get stuffed for a 2-yard loss by "Mr." Griffin. Later in the game, Griffin knocked down a Washington pass. The rookie from Brundidge had three big plays in the biggest game of the year and on such a grand stage.

Griffin played in 15 regular season games. He had 24 tackles, including 20 solos, and was tied for third on the team with 5 sacks and he knocked down 5 passes. Those are pretty good numbers for a rookie and Griffin said he is pleased with his rookie season performance.

"When they call my number, I’m ready," he said. "I like to be on the field and I like to make a contribution to my team. This is the greatest thing that has happened to me."

Griffin said

being a part of the Super Bowl hoopla is a lot of fun and it gives the Super Bowl an aura that is missing in other games. Having his family share in the activities makes being there even more special, but come Sunday, it’s business as usual.

When we take the field, it will be 11 men against 11 men and we’ll have to block everything else out," he said. "A lot of people haven’t given us much respect, even after we took it to the Vikings, but most of those people who are making predictions probably have never even played football. Oh, there are a lot of experts out there, but the men on the field will settle it. They will determine who is the best football team. They will decided who is the Super Bowl Champion."

And, who does Griffin think will be the victor? The Ravens? The Giants?

"Well, I have an idea, but I’m not saying," he said, but you could almost hear a smile cracking through the telephone.

When the game is over, Griffin hopes to lift his helmet in a victorious salute to his family, who has been so supportive of him throughout his career. His dad won’t be in the stands, but he will be on the field, for his son carries him in his heart wherever he goes.

Cornelius Griffin is his daddy’s son and he lives his life the way his dad would have wanted him to live it – with a positive attitude and the belief that good things will happen for those who choose the right path.