CHAMPAIGN – He hears about it all the time. Every day. With some sort of the same reaction: "You?"
Twenty years later, the record still stands. On Sept. 22, 1990, Howard Griffith ran for eight touchdowns in a 56-21 win against Southern Illinois. On 21 carries. In three quarters.
Tonight, between the third and fourth quarters of the next game between the schools, Griffith will be recognized at Memorial Stadium. Not that he asked for it.
For some players, the record day might define their lives, their careers. Not Griffith. He went on to win two Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos. He is in the middle of a successful broadcasting career, working as the studio analyst for the Big Ten Network.
Go to his Chicago house and you won't see a sign on the wall that reads "Home of the Single-Game Touchdown Record-Holder." There's little in the house that would tell you Griffith even played football.
Eight touchdowns was one game. One moment. Set up by a meeting between Griffith and the Salukis earlier that summer at a Champaign festival.
"I can remember just talking trash," Griffith said. "And they were talking trash, too. I was talking about how, 'We're going to beat you guys. You guys don't have a chance. I'll be out of the game in the first quarter and (backup) Kameno Bell will be taking care of you guys.' "
Early on, the Salukis were the ones having all of the fun. At Griffith's expense.
Griffith scored his first touchdown on the 10th play of the game, going 5 yards with 10:06 left in the opening quarter. Southern Illinois owned the rest of the period.
The Salukis tied it 7-7 on an 82-yard drive. Then, Griffith made his one mistake all day. On a 7-yard run, Griffith lost the ball to Salukis linebacker Kevin Kilgallon, who raced 27 yards for the lead touchdown.
"That made him so mad, you could fry an egg on his neck," said Huie Griffith, Howard's dad.
"That was like, 'Wow, could this go any worse?' " Griffith said.
It did. Another Illinois fumble, this time by quarterback Jason Verduzco, set up Southern Illinois' third touchdown. With 1:32 left in the first quarter, Illinois trailed 21-7. Setting a touchdown record was the last thing on Griffith's mind.
"We clearly got off to a slow start," Griffith said. "It was like we weren't taking the game seriously. 'We're a really good team. We're trying to win the Big Ten title. The last thing we're really thinking about is you guys. We've got bigger fish to fry.' "
The third Southern Illinois touchdown was the last. Griffith had seven more to go.
Griffith scored on three consecutive carries in the second quarter. First came a 51-yard run. Then a 7-yarder. And, finally, a 41-yarder that Griffith didn't want any part of.
"I said, 'I just scored. I'm really not interested. Give me a break here,' " Griffith said. "Things just started rolling."
Nobody was patting the Illini on the back at halftime. Nobody mentioned Griffith's four touchdowns.
"(John) Mackovic is mad as I don't know what," Griffith said. "He was upset. Everyone was upset at this point about the way we've been playing. We needed to start putting some things together and start building some confidence in ourselves."
Griffith remembers one of the equipment managers telling him he had four touchdowns as the team returned to the field. He didn't think much about it.
"It still hadn't sunk in that anything else was getting ready to happen," Griffith said.
No. 5 came on a 5-yard run, his 13th carry of the game, with 12:34 left in the third quarter. That tied Griffith with Red Grange for the school's single-game touchdown record. Grange's came in the 1924 landmark game against Michigan.
Griffith took the record on his own with 10:10 left, sprinting 18 yards off right tackle for his sixth touchdown.
"That's when people started to notice," Griffith said. "Then, seven happened. You could start to feel the excitement. My feeling once I got to seven was 'I don't need to play anymore.' "
Griffith didn't want to show up Southern Illinois coach Bob Smith, who was on the Illinois staff before taking over in Carbondale.
Mackovic was torn. He didn't want to hurt his colleague on the other sideline. But he recognized the significance of Griffith's performance.
"He said, 'You're not going to get close to something like this again. If the opportunity comes up, I think we need to go for it,' " Griffith said.
Reluctantly, Griffith agreed.
He went back into the game late in the quarter. Griffith's 8-yard run moved it to the 3. History came next.
"It was a counter play," Griffith said. "With Coach Mackovic, we always worked on goal-line drills. We had a lot of success in this game running with two tight ends, Jeff Finke and Frank Hartley. Frank Hartley would bury people. Jeff Finke had done a great job. It was a play we had run a couple times earlier in the game.
"It went in, and I ended up on my back. Shawn Wax and Jeff Finke picked me up."
Griffith doesn't remember much about the next 20 minutes or so, which he describes as "surreal." His teammates put him on their shoulders after the eighth touchdown, which broke the record set by Mississippi's Arnold "Showboat" Boykin.
There was a quarter left. Illinois threatened to score again, but Griffith stayed on the bench. Nobody was tempted to try for touchdown No. 9.
Griffith feared the postgame reaction of Smith, worried that the Southern Illinois coach would think the Illini tried to run up the score.
"He was excited for me, which was a relief," Griffith said. "This was somebody I had a lot of respect for. He knew my story. It was exciting for him to know that he had a part in that."
Up in the stands, Griffith's parents, Huie and Joy, celebrated. They became part of the postgame news conference.
"It was the wildest day in his football career, including the pros," Huie Griffith said. "I wasn't counting touchdowns until the end.
"I had never heard of anybody scoring seven touchdowns, let alone eight."
The Griffiths were sitting at about the 40-yard line in the east stands, near the student section. Griffith's future wife was at the game.
Randall Townsel, a high school teammate of Griffith's, had been at the Illinois-Colorado game the previous week. He missed Illinois-Southern Illinois because he had his own game for Northern Illinois. Word quickly spread to DeKalb.
"I called down and I said, 'Collect call from Red Grange, will you accept?' " said Townsel, now the football coach at Hales Franciscan. "We just had a lot of fun with it."
Griffith's jersey, cleats and a game ball went to the College Football Hall of Fame. But the No. 8 touchdown ball is at his parent's home. Signed by his teammates.
You won't see Illinois-Southern Illinois on the Big Ten Network's greatest games series. It wasn't televised. Griffith has a copy of the game tape.
"It's hard to believe somebody could score eight touchdowns," Griffith said. "How does it happen? What, were they all 1 yard? The reality is that people have not seen it. It wasn't on TV, and it's not on the Internet."
Afterward, letters poured in to Griffith, including one from then-Gov. Jim Edgar. Nobody ripped him for breaking the record of the legendary Grange.
In December, Griffith met Grange in Florida. Without the record, it wouldn't have happened.
"That was the highlight of that entire experience, getting to meet him," Griffith said. "I can say, 'I spent some time with Red Grange.' "