The memory of that awful day in New Jersey lingers for John Riggins. He sat in the training room of Giants Stadium with ice bags covering welts on his neck, his massive thighs and his sore hip.

"I feel like I jumped on a hand grenade to save the squad," he told the trainers that day, embellishing it a bit when he finally met the press. "They shouldn't have played the national anthem," the folksy fullback said."They should have played "Taps."

The bruises have healed somewhat for Riggins, as he prepares to face the Giants Sunday. "But we can probably expect the same kind of treatment unless we're prepared to dish it out a little more," he said. "I know I am. I don't like that kind of pain. You don't mind it so much if you win, but when you lose, everything hurts."

Riggins said yesterday he is enjoying football this season "more than any time since my sophomore year in college. We're winning, and it feels good to contribute again."

Riggins is contributing more than most. He is averaging 4.3 yards a carry, the fifth leading rusher in the National Football League, and is also the Redskins' leading pass receiver with 22 catches.

With 794 yards rushing and six games to play, Riggins sees a chance to go over the 1000-yard mark rushing for only the second time in his eight-year career. He is the man the Redskins look to in times of crisis.

"That," he says, "is when I want the ball."

Against the Colts on Monday night, Joe Theismann was happy to give it to him. In the Redskins' final drive, with the game hanging in the balance, Riggins either ran, caught or was the target for the football on eight consecutive plays.

"I really felt we would score in that last drive," he said. "I wanted it. I felt I could gain yards. And that feeling keeps building every game we play."

Two years ago, the feeling never happened. George Allen had signed Riggins to a five-year, $300,000-a-year contract, then decided he was better-suited to be a blocking back.

"To this day, I will never understand why," Riggins said. "My first year was the worst, yeah. My dad was in the Marines and he always said you couldn't pay him enough to go through it again, but he sure was glad he had the experience. That's kind of how I felt here.

"I began to wonder, can I really play this game? Maybe I couldn't. I had always considered myself a logical person, but I couldn't figure out what was wrong. I even quit reading the papers. I remember one guy saying 'Calvin Hill and John Riggins - one doesn't play and one can't.'

"I finally realized I couldn't make everybody happy, and when it got to the point it didn't really matter to me, that's when I really started playing football.

"If George (Allen) had come back this year, I'm not sure I would have. Football just wasn't any fun playing that way. Regardless of the money, which is tough to walk away from, I was considering asking them to let me go or to renegotiate somewhere else or maybe retiring."

Those thoughts no longer occur to Riggins, Allen will be in the press box broadcasting the game here Sunday afternoon, which brings up another of Riggins' major peeves. He did not appreciate Jim Brown, Allen's broadcast partner, taking shots at him during the first Cardinal game.

"I have to admit, playing that first game in St. Louis, I was a little apprehensive about him (Brown) doing the broadcast," Riggins said. "I kind of had the feeling he would be disparaging. I don't know why, just intuition.

"But now, I don't even consider it. Ability-wise, Jim Brown was the best, but that doesn't necessarily make him an expert. He's never said anything good about anybody but himself. So I don't consider it any more.

"In my eyes, he's fractured his credibility. He's not a true reporter in telling people what's going on. He editorializes more than he reports, but maybe that's part of his job. I'm more concerned about what I'm supposed to do."

"That's the one thing they keep telling you around here - take care of your job and good things will happen. This season, I've had success, but I've also had a lot of help. And you can't give these guys enough credit.

"They're blocking for me, doing a hell of a job. And we're winning, that's the most important thing. I'm not thinking, 'Gee, I need 400 yards in six games to get 1,000.'

"I'm just trying to realize what a great opportunity every Sunday will be. I think about scoring three touchdowns and getting 150 yards. That's what I dwell on. That gets me going."

Jack Pardee confirmed that Theismann will start at quarterback. "He played pretty well against the Colts," Pardee said. "If he'd been able to keep some of those completions he would have had pretty good game . . . Safety Jake Scott missed practice with a sore hip, but is expected to play . . . Pardee said he would probably give Jeff Williams another start at right tackle and praised the first-year man for his play in Baltimore." He did not allow a sack in his first start as a professional . . . Giants list cornerback Ray Rhodes as doubtful with a chest injury.