Almost a year after he walked out of the Redskin training camp, John Riggins returned today, looking tan, fit and, as he put it, ready to play football again.
Asked if he was in camp to stay, Riggins replied, "No comment. I'm really here to play football and not do a lot of talking. There has been too much talking already."
Riggins has returned to the Redskins despite being involved in a grievance procedure with the club. An arbitrator is studying his claim that the Redskins were wrong in preventing him from playing last season after he left the team over a contract dispute. At that time, he was seeking to have the option year of his contract turned into a one-year, $500,000 pact.
The arbitration decision is not expected to be announced until October, at the earliest. If Riggins wins, he could be granted last year's salary of $300,000, although the arbitrator could decide that he deserves only part of that money, or none. It also would mean that he would be in the option year of his contract, at which time he probably would ask again to have it renegotiated.
But for now, Riggins says, he wants to concentrate on football. He said he decided to report early -- veteran players don't have to be here until Friday -- to become familiar with Coach Joe Gibbs' offense.
"Going to the minicamp like I did (in June) has helped some but I've usually found that most of what you learn in those camps you forget by the time you get to this one," he said. "His system is a little different than I'm used to and I figured by coming in early, I'd be able to use the time to my advantage.
"Now, can we talk about hunting or fishing or something else?"
Riggins, who has sported beards and mustaches of one sort or another the past few years, was clean shaven. He rode his motorcycle here from Washington, where he had spent the last few days visiting friends, including Terry Hermeling, the tackle who is retiring, and guard Ron Saul.
He should provide an enormous boost to a Redskin offense already strengthened by the addition of quick backs Joe Washington and Terry Metcalf. In 1979, Riggins had his best season, rushing for 1,153 yards and scoring nine touchdowns.
Redskin coaches are delighted to see him come in early. They realize his abilities, including his able blocking and receiving, should give the offense even more versatility.
But the team hierarchy is much more wary about his return. Ever since his walkout last summer, some front office officials haven't trusted his motives. They feel he has come back more to bolster his arbitration case than to help the team, which Riggins vehemently denies.
But any thoughts of trading him are tempered by two things: he has veto over any deal and the coaches first would like to see if he can play after a year's layoff.
Ironically, he probably has more leverage with the team now than he did at any point during his long holdout.The Redskins chose last year to play without him rather than give in to his demands. He wound up possibly losing a year's salary; they slumped to a 6-10 record and Jack Pardee was fired as coach.
The question now is: can be regain his old form? He will begin finding out Monday when the club resumes two-a-day workouts.