Dexter Manley had a suggestion for the Miami Dolphins. Asked if there was any way to stop John Riggins, the ever resourceful Manley said, "Yeah. Handcuff him. Put some cuffs on him. Short of that, I don't know what I'd do if I were them."
The Dolphins' defense, however, has proved in the last two weeks that it requires neither the advice of an opponent nor the hardware of law enforcement to police offenses. Statistically, it is the best in the National Football League.
Against the San Diego Chargers, the defense grounded Dan Fouts' aerial show with five interceptions. Against the New York Jets, it intercepted Richard Todd five times and held the league's leading rusher, Freeman McNeil, to 2.7 yards a carry and his lowest total of the season, 46 yards. In two weeks, the defense also has had seven sacks while giving up only 13 points.
"Every week we look for keys on defense," said linebacker A.J. Duhe, who had three of the interceptions against New York. "This week we are obviously looking for John Riggins."
As well they should.
Riggins, in playoffs against Detroit, Minnesota and Dallas, has gained 440 yards in 98 carries, a 4.5 average.
And when Riggins is consistently making good gains, Joe Theismann has been able to use the pass as an alternative rather than a necessity. Theismann has completed 69.4 percent of his passes in the playoffs.
On the first day of practice for the Super Bowl today, some of the Dolphins said they will have to look closely at Riggins and his blunt style.
"We've really played more against the Freeman McNeils and the Joe Cribbs types, the quick slashing runners," said defensive end Doug Betters. "We're gonna look at the films. We want to run it down to quarter-speed and run it over and over again."
"Riggins is a power type of runner. I don't think we've faced anybody quite like him," said nose guard Bob Baumhower. "Against a guy like him, you've got to keep all the lanes cut off. We stress that three guys can't play well while two don't. Everybody's got to be there. Riggins has good vision and if he sees a crack, he'll take it."
"In Theismann, they've got one of the best passers in the game, but our first objective is to stop Riggins, especially on first down," said Duhe. "Washington presents the same problem the Jets did. They have a big strong offensive line that runs over people."
The Redskins run what is known in the league as a "Houston," a double-tight-end formation with one running back: Riggins or, on passing downs, Joe Washington. In recent weeks, the offense has been punishing from that set.
Defensive end Kim Bokamper, however, was confident that the Dolphins would not be confused by the formation or trampled by Riggins.
"A lot of people thought there wasn't a crack in the Jets' offense, a lot of people thought there wasn't a crack in the San Diego offense, but we managed to find them," said Bokamper.
"This week is a new challenge and we can't afford to rest on our laurels," said defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger. "We have to be smart. We can't just look to stop Riggins on first down. If we're playing Riggins great on first down but Charley Brown is downfield catching the ball, then we're not doing the right thing."
Both Arnsparger and Coach Don Shula said it also would be important to prevent Theismann from rolling out. Against Dallas, Theismann moved the pocket and gave his receivers time to improvise second patterns.
Baumhower, a six-year veteran and a two-time Pro Bowl player, brought strategy talk to a halt.
"You know, this game is no different than any other," he said. "There's no magic, no formula to defense. In certain situations you try to see a team's tendencies and try to anticipate. But defense is really very basic. It's a question of whipping the man in front of you and getting to the man with the ball."
The Dolphins have no major injuries, although kicker Uwe von Schamann, who has a hairline fracture of a bone in his back, will not practice until later in the week, Coach Don Shula said. Punter Tom Orosz will be held out until later because of a slight muscle pull in his right leg, received practicing kickoffs last week . . . Fullback Andra Franklin, who has a slight concussion, and backup safety Mike Kozlowski, with a groin pull, are listed as probable. Backup linebacker Ron Hester, knee strain, is questionable.