"Yeah, it's possible," John Riggins said today when asked if he would retire after the Super Bowl. "But it's quite a way down the road and I'm not concerned about that now. I came out here to win the Super Bowl."
After Dan Fouts, Riggins may be football's most eligible free agent. The Redskins' fullback, even at 33, is such a dominant force that witnesses, searching for comparisons, finally settle on the Larry Csonka of a decade ago. Will Riggins play for the Redskins next season? Or jump to the USFL? Maybe another NFL team?
"I haven't given that much thought," he said, choosing his words cautiously, as might a man who had given the matter a lot of thought. "This is not the time and place to be thinking about that. There's too much involved here . . . I'd like to get 100 yards Sunday, and that's about as far ahead as I'm thinking."
That's the news, such as it is, from the John Riggins front today, except for Coach Joe Gibbs' revelation that early last season the coaches thought Riggins was washed up. We'll get to that, along with other stuff about Riggo's exile on the plains, but first a fashion report as to what Washington's most famous Hog wears to the Super Bowl.
A 5 O'Clock Club T-shirt. ("Because that's quittin' time," Riggins says, after explaining it's a "semi-elite club" of himself, guard Ron Saul and the Redskin equipment people. "To join, you buy a Budweiser.")
Camouflage pants, with an elephant-gun belt buckle.
Cowboy boots, tan.
An attitude, happy.
For a dozen years, Riggins wanted a shot at the Super Bowl. An old Jets' coach said he'd be the greatest fullback ever. Even with Namath, Riggins went nowhere. When George Allen hired him, Riggins became a blocking back. Nowhere. For a dozen years, a 230-pound fullback with 9.9 speed went nowhere until, in the summer of 1980, he went somewhere.
He painted the house. "I took the whole year. I'm a slow worker."
So in the winter of 1981, Riggins sat in freshly painted self-exile.
"When I left, I wanted out," he said. "At that point, football wasn't that much fun. I'd achieved a certain amount of success, and I guess it wasn't a challenge. I'd had my best year the year before I quit."
He didn't mention it today, and nobody brought it up, but Riggins also quit in 1980 because the Redskins wouldn't renegotiate his contract. He had two years to go. He wanted an injury guarantee for the $300,000 of the first year and he wanted the second year's $300,000 increased to $500,000 and guaranteed. When the Redskins said no, Riggins left camp.
He had thought extra money might motivate him, might carry him past his eternal worry about a career-ending injury that would leave him a lame old man "with a catch in my gait." Today he said, "It worked out for the best, it worked out the way it should have worked out."
Jack Pardee might not agree. Without his best running back, Pardee's Redskins fell from 10-6 to 6-10. The coach was fired. The next coach, Joe Gibbs, was on a scouting trip in February of 1981 when he stopped in Lawrence, Kan. He'd tried to telephone Riggins several times, but the fullback wouldn't answer. This time, Gibbs knocked on the door of a freshly painted house.
It was 9 in the morning.
Riggins came to the door.
Carrying a beer.
"I don't know if Joe goes for that," Riggins said. "But I do."
Gibbs told Riggins there would be no repercussions from the last summer. He wanted Riggins back. It would be a new start.
Riggins missed the football by then. Late in the Redskins' season of '80, Riggins drove to St. Louis to visit the team's locker room. "I realized that life was boring without it," Riggins said. "When I came back, I created a whole new environment, to do it one more time."
The challenge was back.
Not that it was easy. Turns out now that Gibbs wasn't happy with Riggins after three games of '81.
"At Philadelphia, he had a very bad game," Gibbs said. "As coaches, we looked and said he's gotta play a lot better than this or he's through."
Riggins doesn't remember playing poorly. "But you're always the last one to know," he said. When Wilbur Jackson went down with an injury, Riggins became the team's big back for good, playing respectably.
Now the Redskins are in a Super Bowl, with Riggins such a star the NFL made a special press-conference arrangement for him today. And by this season's good work Riggins caused most Redskin zealots--even those critical of him for walking out on his team--to say boys will be boys and ain't John the card.
Players at the Super Bowl normally meet the press at tables for interviews. Riggins did that today, but only after addressing maybe 300 media folks at the podium used by Gibbs. "We had so many people wanting to hear John," said Dick Maxwell of the NFL.
Here's some of what they heard . . .
Riggins on the Hogs: "They're a real bunch of slobs. My kind of guys."
On his life style, described by tackle George Starke as a living copy of a country hard-drinkin' song: "It's kind of like my running style. You can't tell anybody how to run, and you can't tell them how to live--as long as they're not very different from what big John Law has in mind."
On meeting Gibbs in Lawrence: "I told you (Gibbs was listening) you would be a great coach with or without me. So far you've proven half of that."
On his running style: "Some people have called it somewhat boring. Possibly true."
On how he's lasted so long: "Formaldehyde."