Andy Griffith: Important American (and a good story-teller about college football)

Griffith was more than his TV show

America's sheriff
America's sheriff

Much will be said and written about Andy Griffith today and this week. Griffith died Tuesday at 86, and from this corner it seems like a life well-lived.

Many an actor gets celebrated after his or her death, but I wonder how many truly had the impact of Griffith.

If he had done nothing else, "The Andy Griffith Show" was great, enduring television. On the surface, it was about a bunch of rubes in small-town North Carolina and their comic situations. But everybody who watched the show knew it was really about friendship, family, and doing the right thing. It was very smart, and it was very funny. There are many reasons why it has endured for a half-century in reruns while so many other shows came and went without leaving footprints.

The folks of Mayberry had their flaws, flaws they couldn't always recognize in themselves. In other words, they were like all of us. But when push came to shove, they always looked out for each other. It was something viewers connected to no matter where they lived. And it's a hard to imagine a more likeable pairing of actors could ever exist than Griffith and Don Knotts.

Griffith could play more than folksy, though. In 1957's "A Face in the Crowd," he portrayed an Arkansas hobo who gets discovered by a radio talent scout and quickly ascends to national stardom. His aw-shucks routine gives way to a dark, ruthless, power-crazy side. I've seen it at least three times on late-night cable, and would put it in my top 25 favorite movies.

It also was a sign of things to come in American media and culture decades down the road.

For something a lot lighter, here is Griffith doing a routine on being a bumpkin encountering his first college football game. It came to may attention via Roger Ebert's blog on the Chicago Sun-Times' site.

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