George Allen still thinks John Riggins was a steal.

"When I made the deal for Riggins, I was criticized for giving him too much money," he said. "If you reflect on that deal today, it was an absolute steal."

Allen may be toiling for the Chicago Blitz of the USFL these days, but his thoughts can come zooming back to his Redskin days with the speed of a boomerang.

"We had seven years of standing ovations (in Washington)," he said, pride creeping into his voice and face. Is it pride? "Oh, really, I really do take a lot of pride in the Redskins.

"Look at Joe Theismann. I brought him out of Toronto, made a deal for him, giving up a first-round draft pick to get him," he said. "That's what I saw in Joe Theismann. In those days, there were not many coaches who would have given up that much for an untried quarterback. He's now one of maybe the best five quarterbacks in football."

For much of this week, Allen has been fielding questions about his former team and the good old days at RFK. He is busy, putting in typically Allen days that begin before the sun touches old Maine Township North High School, the Blitz's headquarters location, and don't wrap up till after the late news.

Amid the flurry of preparation for the USFL's first training camp, Allen is phoning, meeting, signing, and even pushing season tickets, he said. The blackboard on one wall of his office is covered with chalked names and admonitions ("Win," "Do something to improve every day"). Behind his desk are banners from each of the league's franchises, but just outside the door is a large, color photograph he singles out.

"All those books, look at them," he said, counting the binders in the photo; they were filled with Cowboys' statistics and reality. "Last time we played Dallas, that's how many books on the game I had. That's the kind of work that goes into it."

He keeps the picture to remind others, and himself, of the task.

Allen is earnestly trying to keep the conversation centered on his new challenge, but a mention of "his" Redskins shakes off the present, and brings on the roll call of players he brought to RFK.

"I signed Mark Murphy as a free agent," he said. "I called him our 13th-round draft choice. And Moseley too. I gave him a workout program for the offseason, and he's so dedicated he followed every bit of it to the letter. When the Redskins were thinking of cutting him, I thought, if I were in the NFL, I'd pick him up."

Allen also brought Dave Butz to Washington. "There's a guy who's as good as any defensive tackle in the league. You just can't block him. He gets those hands up, he looks like Frankenstein. And George Starke, who'll have a big job on Saturday blocking (Ed) Too Tall (Jones). He's had another fine year."

Allen paused, thinking again of that real steal of a deal, John Riggins. "He's a young man at his age, and can still play," he said. But Allen brushed aside the idea of enticing Riggins, the free agent, to Chicago.

"John'll have so many offers from the NFL, we couldn't afford him." Allen smiled. "He always played so well for me; never caused any problems. I'm glad he's having a banner year."