NEW ORLEANS — The 17th day of November is a day Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin has tried to bury in the deepest crevice of his mind since the start of training camp in August.
Now he can’t run from reality.
Saturday marks the beginning of the end to a bittersweet college career.
Before the start of Saturday’s Conference USA game between the Green Wave (2-8, 2-4) and East Carolina (6-4, 5-1), Griffin and 18 teammates will be recognized during Senior Day ceremonies at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The occasion promises to be emotionally charged since the team plans to honor senior safety Devon Walker, who was lost for the season after suffering a cervical spine fracture Sept. 5 against Tulsa.
“I try not to think about (Senior Day) too much because you get kind of emotional,’’ Griffin said Tuesday. “I’ve been here for five years. This school means a lot to me. Playing football means a lot to me. I have a passion for the game, and I still want to continue to play.
“Just knowing that it’s my last game, in the Superdome, in this uniform, it means a lot.’’
Senior Day takes on added significance for Griffin because it marks his 23rd birthday and a passel of family members will be in the stands rooting on the Green Wave to upset the favored Pirates.
“My brother and sisters are coming to the dome for the first time, so there’s a lot of stuff going on,’’ said Griffin, a 6-foot-5, 206-pounder from Westlake Village, Calif.
“A lot of stuff going on’’ aptly describes Griffin’s senior season under first-year coach Curtis Johnson, who left a comfortable niche as wide receivers coach with the Super Bowl XLIV champion New Orleans Saints to take over a dormant Tulane football program.
- In the second quarter of Game 2, Griffin suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the next 31/2 games. In the same quarter, Walker suffered his life-altering injury, leaving Johnson and his football team in a state of shock.
- The Green Wave fell to 0-5 and lost Games 2 through 5 in lopsided fashion — 45-10, 39-0, 63-10 and 41-13.
- Since Griffin’s return to the starting lineup in Game 6, the Green Wave has played competitively and registered wins against SMU (27-26) and Alabama-Birmingham (55-45).
After passing for a school-record 466 yards against UAB, Griffin extended his record in the next game with a 476-yard performance in defeat against Rice. Not since Patrick Ramsey 13 years ago has a Tulane quarterback posted back-to-back 400-yard passing games.
In Saturday’s 37-23 loss at Memphis, Griffin passed for one touchdown but also committed four turnovers, prompting this hyperbole-filled critique from Johnson at his Tuesday news conference.
“Griff played good (against Memphis), but he’s been playing like Superman the last couple of weeks and you grow to expect that out of him,’’ Johnson said. “He didn’t have one of those Superman kind of games.
“He probably had a Spider-Man game.’’
If East Carolina doesn’t tug too hard or too long on Griffin’s mythical cape, the Green Wave could make it interesting against the Pirates. Put it this way — as Griffin goes, so goes the Green Wave.
“Ryan has been everything you could ever ask for in a quarterback,’’ Johnson said. “I wish I had him another year. It was unfortunate that he went out early. He has been playing at a terrific pace. He’s a better human being than he is a player. He reminds me a lot of of Drew (Brees).’’
To be mentioned in the same breath with superheroes Superman and Spider-Man is one thing. But to be compared favorably to the New Orleans Saints quarterback is quite another.
“(Griffin’s) arm strength is good enough (to play in the NFL),’’ Johnson said. “He can read defenses. He can get you in the right play, and that’s half the battle in the NFL. Then, being in the kind of offense that we’re in, I think he can excel. I wish we had more time with him but I’m eager to see what’s going to happen next for him, and I think it will be good.’’
Griffin, too, is eager to compete at the next level. But first things first: East Carolina and then the regular-season finale at Houston on Nov. 24.
“I’ve learned a lot under coach Johnson,’’ said Griffin, who will leave Tulane in December with a double major in business management and finance. “He’s helped me with all the little details. He’ll see something and he’ll say, ‘Drew does this or Drew does that, or Sean (Payton) likes it like this or Sean likes it like that.’ Then, it makes sense to me, and it works for me if I do it that way.
“He’s always trying to get me to do it like Drew and do it like Sean, and that’s hard to do. It’s tough. As a college quarterback, you want to be compared to someone like Drew Brees because he’s one of the game’s best. But at the same time, you’re just trying to make coach happy every day.’’
Spoken like a true senior.