Jim Dey: Griffith rises to newest challenge

Jim Dey: Griffith rises to newest challenge

Last week, he was in Champaign-Urbana watching the Fighting Illini football team. On Tuesday, he was in East Lansing to get a look at Michigan State. Next week, it's off to Iowa City to see the Hawkeyes.

Life on the road can be taxing, but Howard Griffth's daily schedule is no picnic either.

"Wednesday is always my craziest day," Griffith said, noting that he does a daily radio show in early afternoon and then heads to the Big Ten Network cable television studios in late afternoon for another show. After that, he takes his younger son to a mid-evening football practice.

During the NFL season, Griffith is even busier, doing pregame and postgame analysis on the Chicago Bears for Fox 32 (WFLD-TV).

Hey, it's a living, and the former Illini and NFL player isn't complaining.

"You've got to do it while you can. ... It's been a lot of fun," said Griffith, who has carved out a broad-based career in sports broadcasting after retiring from the NFL.

Best known as one of the top football analysts on the cable channel, Griffith, former coach Gerry DiNardo and veteran broadcaster Dave Revsine anchor the studio coverage for the network, which debuted in 2007 and reaches roughly 90 million households.

The 46-year-old Griffith's latest challenge is a new daily sports radio show in the highly competitive Chicago market. In February, Chicago radio station WGN decided to expand its broadcasting footprint in the Windy City, starting an FM station (WGWG-LP, 87.7) devoted almost solely to sports.

Griffith was hired to co-host a Monday-through-Friday show that runs from 1 to 3 p.m. "Griff, Quigs and Finfer" features Griffith and his two partners, Alex Quigley and Ben Finfer. Known as "The Game," it's the third all-sports radio station in Chicago, and there's no guarantee of success.

But Griffith has never shied away from challenges. He was a walk-on member of the University of Illinois football team who ultimately won a scholarship and became a star. In 1990, he set the NCAA record for touchdowns in a single game, running for eight scores in a 56-7 win over Southern Illinois in Carbondale.

Taken in the ninth round of the 1991 draft by Indianapolis, Griffith was cut by the Colts but picked up to play on the practice squad for the Buffalo Bills. He ultimately played 11 years in the NFL, winning two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos.

He said his time on the Bills' practice squad was similar to his redshirt year as a freshman at the UI in that it provided experience that laid the groundwork for future success.

"(Redshirting) gave me an opportunity to get acclimated to the campus and get acclimated to what was expected of me," he recalled.

With the Bills, he used his time on the practice squad to learn a new position — fullback. No longer was he running the ball, Griffith was blocking for the guys who did and occasionally catching passes out of the backfield.

"(The position switch) took some getting used to," he recalled.

But it worked out well. In Denver, Griffith blocked for star running back Terrell Davis, earning the nickname "The Human Plow."

The NFL, of course, is a lot different than college. The competition is far more intense, and it's strictly business. Players are there one day and gone the next, especially those lower on the totem pole.

"It's a lot of stress. Being on the practice squad, you really don't know (what the future holds)," Griffith said.

These days, his position is much more secure, although Griffith is still subject to the vagaries of the TV/radio marketplace.

"There are a lot of guys who want my seat," he said, noting that "it's not going to be my seat forever."

But for now, Griffith is enjoying his life and his work.

Griffith and his wife - his high school sweetheart, Kim - have two sons. Howard Jr. just graduated from Chicago Mt. Carmel High School and will be playing football at West Virginia State this fall. Another son, 14-year-old Houston, also plays football.

Given recent news reports about the dangers of the game, particularly concussions, Griffith said he has "concerns" about his sons playing such a rough game. But he said they enjoy football and that he oversees their coaching, making sure they learn the proper techniques of tackling that are necessary to avoid injury.

"It really is about education," he said.

Besides, Griffith said the pluses of playing football outweighed the minuses for him, and he hopes it will be the same for his sons.

"I've benefited and learned a lot from playing football," he said.

His passion for football remains the same as it was when he played. Griffith coaches kids age 5 to 14 in a Chicago youth league, and he's always trying to learn something new. In his TV work, Griffith talked almost exclusively about Big Ten and pro football. Now that he's on sports radio, he and his co-hosts discuss the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks ... you name it.

"I'm fortunate to work in an area I have a passion for," Griffith said.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 217-351-5369.

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