John Riggins and ‘Loosen Up, Sandy’

October 29, 2012

What’s the most famous ‘Sandy’-related story in D.C. sports history? It’s not even close. And no, it wasn’t Mike Shanahan doing his Monday press conference by phone this week because of the hurricane.

The famous incident came at the end of January 1985, and it involved John Riggins, a bunch of famous Washingtonians, and a Supreme Court justice.

We all know this tale in the apocryphal sense, but just for fun, I went back and read the contemporary accounts. Good gracious, this was a different time.

Other takeaways:

1) The Redskins had no comment at the time. No matter what decade it is, the Redskins never have a comment.

2) Twenty-five years later, Riggins told Roll Call that he was nervous around such heavyweights, and so to “loosen up,” he had a few double scotches and chased that with several glasses of wine — all on an empty stomach.

“This occasion changed the course of western civilization,” Riggins told Roll Call. “I think what we’re talking about here is what I’ll be remembered for much longer than being an MVP.”

3) Can you imagine how much Web traffic Riggins would have generated?

Anyhow, here’s how the event was covered at the time.

Associated Press

While many people may be tongue-tied when they meet a Supreme Court justice, not so Washington Redskins fullback John Riggins. “Come on Sandy baby, loosen up. You’re too tight,” he admonished Sandra Day O’Connor.

The 240-pound football player also slept on the floor for an hour as Vice President George Bush and other dignitaries spoke to the crowd of 1,300 at the Washington Press Club’s annual salute to Congress banquet Wednesday night.

Riggins was later helped from the room by two editors of People magazine who had been seated at his table.

Douglas Woloshin, Riggins’ agent, said he spoke to the player Thursday, and “he said he had a good time — a very nice time, in fact.”

One of those at Riggins’ table, People’s Washington bureau chief Garry Clifford, confirmed that Riggins told Mrs. O’Connor, “Come on Sandy baby, loosen up. You’re too tight.”

Ms. Clifford said the justice laughed and appeared not to be insulted. “It was a very funny evening…No one was dying of embarrassment,” she said.

Associated Press photographer Ron Edmonds said he stepped over somebody sprawled on the floor at the end of the evening, not recognizing the person as Riggins.

“They took him out the VIP door,” said Edmonds. “They were dragging him, feet behind.” He said the person being dragged was mumbling incoherently.

Virginia Gov. Charles Robb, who was also at the table, said it was “definitely a memorable evening.” But in a statement issued by his office he declined to comment further.

United Press International

Redskins star John Riggins put on a raucous display at a formal Washington banquet Wednesday night, at one point urging Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to ”loosen up, Sandy baby,” then passing out on the ballroom floor and snoring through a speech by George Bush.

Riggins, most valuable player when the Redskins won the Super Bowl two years ago and a larger-than-life legend in this football-crazy town, was a guest of People Magazine at the Washington Press Club’s annual black tie ”Salute to Congress” dinner.

Also at Riggins’ table were Justice O’Connor and her husband, John J. O’Connor III. A guest said Riggins repeatedly spoke loudly to Mrs. O’Connor, several times saying:

”Come on, Sandy baby, loosen up. You’re too tight.”

The O’Connors left immediately after dinner, skipping the show emceed by ABC-TV White House correspondent Sam Donaldson, which included a humorous speech by Vice President Bush. Mrs. O’Connor’s secretary denied they fled Riggins, citing her long-standing invitation to participate in a Thursday morning prayer breakfast.

The justice’s husband said Thursday, ”Certainly we didn’t leave early because of his (Riggins’) behavior.” The dinner ran until 11:30 p.m. and, ”that’s kind of late for a work day.” However, the O’Connors left well before 10 p.m.

Riggins was unavailable for comment, and a Redskins spokesman said, ”We’ve had no contact with John and we have no comment.” Contacted by UPI, Riggins’ wife Mary Lou denied her husband had passed out. ”He fell asleep is more accurate,” she said, adding she believed Mrs. O’Connor found Riggins ”very entertaining.”

Washington Post

The other VIP guests at the table with John Riggins said yesterday they weren’t offended. Redskins officials privately said they were concerned and embarrassed. Riggins’ agent, Douglas Woloshin, said Riggins told him “he had a good time — a very nice time, in fact.”

Riggins, once more the center of Washington attention, wasn’t saying anything in public, himself.

But the night before, at the Washington Press Club’s Salute to Congress dinner, Riggins was talking.

“Come on, Sandy baby, loosen up,” Riggins told one tablemate, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “You’re too tight.”

He then walked over to O’Connor’s husband and knelt beside him and put his arm on John O’Connor’s shoulder. Then he dropped to the floor and fell asleep.

Guests at the table of 12 — which included Virginia Gov. Charles Robb and senior editors of People magazine — said Riggins slept for about 45 minutes, often snoring during the program, which included a humorous speech by Vice President George Bush.

When the program was over, Riggins’ wife Mary Lou awakened him. Two editors with People, which had invited Riggins to the dinner, helped him out of the Sheraton Washington ballroom to his waiting limousine.

By that time, the O’Connors were long gone. They left before the program started.

“Certainly we didn’t leave early because of his Riggins’ behavior,” John O’Connor said yesterday. Supreme Court spokeswoman Toni House said that O’Connor had an appointment to appear at an early morning prayer breakfast yesterday, and so left the dinner early.

Mary Lou Riggins told United Press International yesterday that her husband had not passed out. “He fell asleep is more accurate,” she said. She added she believed Justice O’Connor thought Riggins was “very entertaining.”

“We had wine at the table, and everyone was having a good time and being a little boisterous,” said People assistant managing editor Hal Wingo, who assisted Riggins out of the hotel. “There was no sense in which Justice O’Connor left early because of this. She told me when she arrived that she would have to leave by 10:45 and she actually stayed later than that.”

Wingo said that when Riggins told O’Connor to “loosen up,” “she laughed and said, ‘Okay.’ She took it in great stride. I was sitting next to her and she was very gracious, laughing and smiling back. We thought it was kind of a delightful mix of personalities to have at the table.”

(Thanks to @JoelEskovitz for the idea.)

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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Sarah Kogod · October 29, 2012

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