Some visiting heads of state, many global movers and shakers, never attract the media assault that struck Redskin Park yesterday: a thicket of microphones, a dozen cameras, live radio breakins, television stations scrambling to bounce his voice off a bald head or some other hard object in the distance and then back to Gordo in the anchor chair.
Of course, John Riggins is more important here at the moment than your average potentate. And when he airs his thoughts in public for about the second time during the Reagan administration, as he did yesterday, the town cocks its collective ear. That he talked was much more significant than what he said.
The major revelation was that Riggins evidently does not need Ron Saul's off-the-field blocking after all. They are the jock vaudevillians so popular at R-rated functions and fan shows that pay hard money and ask soft questions. As a solo, Riggins ain't bad.
He warms to a posse of press about the way he reacts to angry Vikings during a playoff, slowly but eventually free-swinging fun to behold. It takes him 20 carries to get going in most games, he said, and after about 20 minutes yesterday he was clobbering questions such as what has motivated him this season with:
"Budweiser. Or was is Schlitz? I'm not a man who knows his beer."
Does he remember an especially physical beating?
"Yeah, think it was that last Dallas game, where I only had 27 yards. My wife, when she got me home, really worked me over."
If news were measured in yards, it was about a 33-yard day for us. Riggins was no easier to tackle during his press conference than he had been during that glorious 37-carry, 185-yard performance that ended with impromptu bows to his adoring RFK fans.
Wry and sly, he sidestepped a retirement question. Left us grasping nothing but maybes. Earlier, he'd said one of the reasons for not playing in 1980 was the disappointment over coming so close, against the Cowboys in that 35-34 regular-season finale, to the playoffs and failing. Left implied was the possibility of walking away from a violent sport he's beaten for 11 years if the Redskins fail to make the Super Bowl.
But then Riggins said he's running about as well as ever. That has him among the highest-magnitude stars in the history of the NFL, up there with Jim and Franco and the others you don't need a last name to recognize, seventh in rushing (8,089 yards) and fifth (2,038) in carries.
He apologized for that 3.1-yard rushing average this season, joked that he thought it might end with him having more carries than yards. Perhaps that is why Riggins has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in two playoffs.
Long ago, Riggins decided there were better things to win than a stats race.
"My second year in the league, with the Jets, I gained about 950 yards in about 10 games because I was hurt most of the time. That was the year (O.J.) Simpson really established himself as the premier back in the game. After the season, Weeb (Ewbank), who I have to say was a fantastic coach but I didn't think much of as a general manager, gave me a $1,500 bonus check.
"He said it would have been a lot more had I made 1,000 yards."
The irony that he'd carried more times in nine regular-season games this year than he had in all 14 the season George Allen signed him as a free agent was not lost on Riggins. Twenty carries, 20 blocks was Allen's plan for his fullback's game in 1976. Riggins wondered: for this he's paying me a fortune?
"I had a talk (with Allen) to start out my second year," he said. "In fact, I asked George to be traded back in '77 because I just didn't think this was the type situation that I could contribute to the team in: a halfback-oriented offense from Larry Brown's old days.
"They were wasting their money, what they were paying me. And I was wasting my time here, too. That was the only conversation I had with George. He said: 'Don't worry about it. You're okay.' And of course, nothing changed."
The rogue in Riggins is both vexing and appealing. He very likely cost Jack Pardee his job here by being AWOL in '80. And yet a guy who walks away from $300,000 or so has more charm than sense. Like Sonny Jurgensen, who we all assumed would dream up a game plan on the dirt each Sunday, Riggins rather hoots at Xs and Os.
Gimme that bladder, he says, and I'll find the hole that's there, not the one they believe will open. Too much thinking only confuses a Big Rig. And around the league Riggins is renowned for his ability to read the flow of a play so quickly.
He's getting nostalgic in his old age. Reflective.
"It (the Super Bowl) is changing hands so fast," he said, "so you really have to make the most of the chance you get. I was telling some of the guys last week: 'If you stop and think, a year from now how hard these guys'll have to work to be in the same position.' The odds are that heavy."