Redskin fullback John Riggins was back in town yesterday, walking without a limp and talking, for the first time, about "the ridiculous way they used me the last two years."
"I just couldn't believe they wanted to pay my salary (an estimated $300,000 a year) and make me a blocking back," Riggins said before an appointment with team physician Stanford Lavine.
"To tell you the truth, it was absurd. It wasn't good for me, and it wasn't good for the Redskins. It was very frustrating, sure it was. I've been on this team for two years, and I still haven't done anything except get hurt."
Riggins suffered a partial tear of the medial colateral ligament in his right knee in a pileup during the Redskins first game against the Cowboys Oct. 16, and did not play again last season. Without him, the Redskin running attack, after setting a club yardage record the previous season, finished 23rd in rushing in the NFL in 1977.
Riggins was here for a routine examination. He said his knee is about 90 per cent normal after a winter of hunting, indoor tennis and tromping through the snow to feed the 37 head of cattle on his 160-acre farm in Lawrence, Kan.
"I've tried to take it easy and not rush it," he said of his rehabilitation. "I've just tried to stay as active as I can, and I've been able to do everything without any problems. My weight's up to 237 and I'll have to lose some of that. But I'm confident my knee will be as good as it was before I got hurt when it's time to play.
"I still don't know what it will be like when I put on a uniform and people start taking shots at it. But I've dismissed the fact that I got it injured. I don't think about it. Why worry about it?
"It's like an IRS audit. If they get you, they'll get you. And if I can't make it, well, it's time to look for something else to do."
Riggins said he nearly quit the Redskins last summer when it became apparent he would be spending another season as a blocking back.
"When I came back here before training camp, I didn't really know if I wanted to play or not," Riggins said. "The year before, I felt some members of the press were using me as a scapegoat to get at George Allen, saying how foolish he was not to use me. People were also insinuating I couldn't play. It wasn't a particularly rewarding experience.
"In training camp, I could see nothing had really changed. It's funny, I heard that George said they were going to use me more until I got hurt. But that's not true. Had I stayed healthy, nothing would have changed, despite what he said.
"Anyway, in training camp there were times when I felt like I just wanted out. I finally went to him and told him I'd like to be somewhere else. We talked it over - it was late in the exhibition season - and I figured if I went somewhere else I'd have to go through this whole thing again, get to know a whole new group of guys, learn a new offense. So I decided to stay.
"I suppose I also wanted to prove to all the skeptics that I could still play football rather well, an 'I'm going to show you' kind of thing. That didn't work out either because I got hurt."
Riggins also took a vow of silence last season before his injury. He politely declined all interviews, saying only, "It's nothing personal, but I've got nothing to say."
That was out of character for Riggins, normally a loquacious fellow with a dry and often biting sense of humor. When he was asked yesterday why he didn't protest his use - or misuse - by Allen, he said he preferred the low-key approach.
"Under the circumstances, I didn't feel I could say anything," he said. "I had a little reputation as a troublemaker up in New York. I came here with a big contract, into a new situation with new players. I didn't want to wind up in a Reggie Jackson kind of situation where everybody doesn't like you. I want people to like me. The less friction the better.
"And then it seemed like every time I looked at the paper my salary was in print. I'm sure people resented that. So I kept quiet. I wasn't the persons who made the decisions. I was in a position to do what they told me."
He seemed almost ambivalent when asked about the Redskin coaching change, even if Jack Pardee has said often that Riggins would play a prominent role in the Redskin offense next season.
"Jack seems to be a real nice fella," Riggins said. "We talked some this morning. "But as far as my sleeping any better because a coach said I'll do this or I'll do that - well, I have to see it to believe it.
"I've been playing pro football for seven years, and four before that in college, and I've learned you can't always believe everything they say.Now I'm not trying to be snide or anything like that. But sometimes you make all these plans and things just don't work out. So we'll just see what happens."