Orin Griffin made it look easy.
From behind the line of scrimmage, he could rocket down the football field on a long run; from behind a microphone, he could crank out an R&B classic.
Perhaps easiest of all, he connected with people in the Schenectady neighborhoods, as a case manager for the Schenectady Community Action Program (SCAP).
That’s how the former star running back at Mont Pleasant High and UAlbany, who helped the Great Danes achieve their only undefeated season, was remembered on Tuesday, after he died on Sunday at the age of 65 from complications of a stroke suffered in April.
Griffin played for UAlbany head coach Bob Ford in the Great Danes’ first year of varsity ball, in 1973, then helped UAlbany go 9-0 the following season while playing in a wishbone backfield with Tom DeBlois and Glenn Sowalskie. After graduating in 1977, he signed with the Baltimore Colts in 1979, but was cut during training camp.
He eventually settled into a career of social work in his hometown, while fronting R&B bands as lead singer on the side. Griffin is survived by his wife Thea and sons Dillon, 28, and Terrin, 26.
Life-long friend Chris Rogers co-captained the Mont Peasant baseball team with Griffin that won a Section II Class A title and played for the last Class A championship football team for the Red Raiders, so he saw Griffin’s ability up close, and then “too close up” in 1974, Rogers said with a laugh. By then, Rogers was playing for Siena College, and Griffin was tearing it up for the Great Danes.
“They were stepping up their game,” Roger said. “I went to Siena, so we played those guys that year in football, that undefeated season, and they put a whupping on us. It was like 56-14 or some crazy number like that. He ripped off a few runs. He got down the field a few times. It was like a ‘Here we go again’ kind of thing.”
Griffin’s brother-in-law, Chris Betts, remembers well Griffin’s other passion, music. Griffin also wrote poetry as far back as junior high, Rogers said.
“I can remember we had a family Christmas event where we said, ‘Alright, let’s shake it up a little bit, let’s do a talent show,'” Betts said. “So my family came in and did ‘Yellow Submarine,’ and we stumbled through it. Orin came up afterwards and did ‘Mustang Sally’ and completely blew us away.”
Besides football, Griffin starred in baseball and track and field at Mont Pleasant.
Before high school, he and Rogers were part of a Schenectady Pop Warner team that won a Super Bowl in the late 1960s and played on a Schenectady Babe Ruth team that won a state championship.
Griffin roamed center field, while Rogers played third base.
If they ran 40-yard dashes, Rogers could get a step on his friend for the first half of the race, but then it was over.
“Smooth. He worked hard, but he was like a duck, you know what I mean?” Rogers said. “Smooth on top of the water, but underneath he was working like hell. It seemed somewhat effortless at times, but he was a hard worker. In baseball, he covered a lot of ground. A lot of ground.”
According to Griffin’s LinkedIn page, he had worked for SCAP since 2013, the same year the 1974 Great Danes football team was inducted into the UAlbany athletic hall of fame.
Betts said Griffin’s personality made it easy for him to establish a strong rapport with Schenectadians, especially residents at the Joseph L. Allen Apartments on Albany Street.
“He was a big-hearted guy that was really sensitive to everyone around him and was always really concerned and reached out to folks,” Betts said.
“He was a soft-spoken guy most of the time, but he had an incredible network of folks, and we would hang out and people would constantly walk up and greet him, because of his football past, but also because he did so many other things.”
“Considering the sports we played and all that, he had a deep, kind soul,” Rogers said. “He was a poet. Wrote some songs. He was an all-around good guy. He was always everybody’s friend. I really don’t know if he had an enemy. He was quick with a smile.
“He had books he’d show me when we were that age [junior high]. A lot of it was about life, and some of the things we’d see growing up.”
Among Griffin’s poems is one called “When I Look Back,” an ode to his late parents that concludes:
“Onward, I must tread without,
“The golden days of bliss.
“Gently, let the curtain close,
“And seal it with a kiss.”