The scenario seemed so plausible to Redskin management 10 days ago: First, put an end to the John Riggins controversy by retiring the fullback for the rest of the season by placing him on the "retired -- left camp" list. Next, focus the players' attention solely on Dallas, so that by game time Monday night the Cowboys would be helpless in the face of the Washington tornado.
Sometimes, nothing seems to work our right.
John Riggins may be retired, but he hasn't gone away. And it was hard to tell what the Redskins were thinking about during their one-sided loss to Dallas.
As long as Washington is unable to run effectively this season, Coach Jack Pardee will be fielding the same question: "Did you miss Riggins?" He'll give the same diplomatic answer: "John is a good back but he's not the total answer." All the while he'll be seething inside.
The best thing Pardee could do right now is take the warm-up jacket off his new halfback, Wilbur Jackson, on Sunday in the Meadowlands. If you are going to give up two second-round draft choices for a potential 1,000-yard rusher, you had better give him more than two carries in a game, his rushing output Monday. The former 49er may well be the medicine to cure the Redskin running woes, but he must be served up in large doses.
But while some good performances by Jackson could settle the rushing game controversy, and while it is much too soon to panic about the Redskins' future on the basis of one game, it also is obvious now that nothing the club does on the field will cure management of the Riggins headache.
"There is a way to handle John," said a close friend of Riggins. "You can get around him by going through the back door. But if you take him on straight up and confront him or challenge him, you're asking for a fight.
"The Redskins made a big mistake. They should have let John retire without putting him on any special list. But now they have got him upset. And he's not going to let it rest."
The Redskins had three options in dealing with Riggins: pay him what he was demanding -- a $500,000 guaranteed 1981 contract; place him on the league's reserve list, where he wouldn't have counted on their roster, yet could have come back later this season to play; or put him on the "retired-left camp" list, so he couldn't return.
They chose the last option, mainly to shut the door on any whim that Riggins might have about returning midway through the schedule. It was their way of telling the fullback he had done them wrong and now the game was over between them.
But Riggins did not want to retire on anyone's terms but his own. He has maintained for weeks that he doesn't want to play this season, that he has lost his zest for the game. Yet when he was denied the freedom to change his mind -- and when the NFL Players Association reminded him of his right to challenge Washington's decision -- he decided to lash back.
Now Washington faces a grievance hearing. The Redskins would rather be concentrating on their early-season problems on the field, but Riggins isn't about to let that happen. And there is a chance that Riggins will win his fight, either at that hearing or, if a deadlock occurs among the four-man committee, before an arbitrator.
If it is ruled that Riggins cannot be denied the right to "unretire" any time he wants, the Redskins will face an interesting dilemma. What if Riggins decides at that point that he wants to play again? It seems unlikely management would take him back, considering the ill will that exists between the two sides. But if the club refuses him employment, more legal problems would emerge. The Redskins' only alternatives would be to trade him or waive him.
No other team is too anxious to take on Riggins' existing contract, so a trade would be difficult. That leaves waivers -- the route the Redskins probably should have taken 10 days ago. And while there exists the risk that a division rival might pick him up, the contract again reduces that likelihood. aAnd once he clears waivers, he is out of Washington's hair forever.
But the Redskins weren't willing to tackle the waiver odds. What if Philadelphia or -- heaven forbid -- Dallas grabbed him? It was a chance Bobby Beathard and Pardee couldn't take.
And should Riggins lose his appeal on the retirement issue, he still won't be finished with the team. Still unsettled is the matter of when he should begin receiving his deferred money. He says the first installment should begin 30 days after his retirement, which he translates into "right now." The Redskins would rather wait until February of 1982, when the option year of his current contract expires. He hasn't pressed the issue yet, but it is sure to pop up if he is finished for the season.
During all of this, Riggins certainly is chuckling to himself. He knows he has owner Jack Kent Cooke and the rest of the front office upset, which is fine with him. He hasn't really appreciated Washington's brass since the club began cutting the Over-the-Hill Gang in a fashion Riggins found demeaning. He bolted trainng camp this summer knowing he had leverage on the Redskins. It was his way of protest.
One league executive wonders how Washington would have dealt with the Riggins problem if Edward Bennett Williams were completely in charge and Cooke were still in California.
"I bet you would have seen it settled in camp," said the league man. "But Jack Kent Cooke is more of a hard-liner than Williams.He always has been. I don't see him giving in now or later. Not when he thinks Riggins has not gone about this in a proper fashion."
Cooke never gave in to Jerry West or Wilt Chamberlain when, as owner of the Lakers, his superstars annually asked for new contracts. Nor will he likely back off from the Riggins stand.