John Riggins surely does set his own path. Off the field two nights ago, when nobody expected it, he strutted into an informal party in tie and tails. On the field today, when the best defense in the National Football League knew almost exactly where he would go, Riggins gave the classiest running performance in Super Bowl history.
Because Riggins ran past Franco Harris in the record book, because the Redskins essentially told the Miami Dolphins what they were going to do and then went out and did it, their victory was a whole lot more impressive than 27-17.
After a run of four games, we now see these Hogs on the field and some legendary teams in our mind: Lombardi's Packers, Shula's early '70s Dolphins. The Redskins have dared the opposition to stop one or two basic plays--and then blown 'em all over the field, anyway. Sometime: first quarter or last.
There was just the proper amount of fluff today, enough reverses and flea-flickers to keep Miami from ganging all 11 defenders, owner Joe Robbie and Don Shula's five kids between the tackles. This was bitter irony for Shula: zonked by a Larry Csonka play-alike.
Just as he'd imagined.
For a good deal of the week, Shula had praised what he called the Redskins' "surge:" Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic, Fred Dean, George Starke and Don Warren "surging" off the ball, bending the defensive line and then "surging" some more when Riggins hits.
Shula called it.
Ronald Reagan phoned.
The president got through to Coach Joe Gibbs in the dressing room and joked that last week he wondered if Riggins could perhaps alter the spelling to REAGGINS. Tonight, he thought, oh, what the heck: "Would he mind if I added an I and a couple of G's?"
Still won't help, Mr. President.
Riggins-omics is the compelling topic now. That's the sudden turn to the right in football philosophy by Gibbs that has brought the Redskins ultimate glory for the first time since the New Deal.
It's no big deal.
What he does is the most elementary play in football, very likely on page one of Stagg's playbook. Riggins is best when he takes no more than two steps to his right or two steps to his left and then cuts upfield. "Forty Gut" and "50 Gut" and the glorious "70 Chip" are his staples.
Up the gut is how today went.
Riggins has gained more yards in four playoff games (610) than he did in eight regular-season games (553). In his fashion, he explained why.
"There is this old gentleman back in Kansas named Glenn Jenkins," he said. "I was telling him that, when I'm home on the farm at night, I hear those coyotes howling and it sounds like they're getting closer. I told Glenn that makes me sort of nervous.
"He said: 'I've shot about 200 of those coyotes in my life, so they don't exactly raise the hair on the back of my neck.' I'm sort of like Glenn Jenkins. I've played about 130 regular-season games, and they don't exactly raise the hair on the back of my neck. But the playoffs. They are something different."
Hard to fathom as it seems, the Redskins gave the Dolphins 10 points and still won driving. The special teams, which Gibbs praises as the strongest, most efficient part of the Redskins, allowed one touchdown on a kickoff return and field position from which the Dolphins drove for a field goal. Washington also lost a chance at a field goal on the last play of the first half when Alvin Garrett could not squirm out of bounds.
That could have been disastrous.
What it was was fodder for the Hogs.
The Redskins gained more yards in the second half than many teams get in entire games against the Dolphins. Only the superChargers from San Diego have managed that sort of production against the Killer Bees. The Redskins were swatting them aside late in the game.
"We were confident we could run," Riggins said. "Wasn't no guarantee, though."
One of the Hogs, Grimm, had confided off the record before the game: "We're gonna give the ball to Riggins and blow 'em out."
The play that will linger a lifetime for Washingtonians was fourth down on the Dolphins' 43, with about 10 minutes left and slightly less than the length of the football from a first down. Time for "70 Chip."
Time also for the whiff of luck that has helped them so much of the season. A defensive back following man-in-motion Clint Didier, Don McNeal, slipped to the ground. Came the snap; came McNeal to grab Riggins; came Riggins wiggling out of his hands and then thundering down the left sideline and into the end zone.
Had McNeal kept his feet, he might have gotten his entire body in front. Arm tackles don't stop this Rig.
So a town that thought its last magical moment might have been Wes Unseld making two free throws June 7, 1978, now has Riggins outlegging Glenn Blackwood for the go-ahead touchdown in a game that ended a four-decade dry spell.
And Charlie Brown catching a rollout from Joe Theismann with his tippy-toes either in or out of the end zone. An official hesitated, then threw up his hands. Free at last, from the image of a team that cannot even get to the big ones very often, let alone win one.
With the league's most valuable player, Mark Moseley, called on just twice, the Redskins still dominated. With their strongest phase shaky, they dominated. Against a defense that decharged San Diego and pitched a muddy shutout against the Jets, they dominated.
Partied first; won later.
Partied some more.
"A feeling any higher and you'd be in heaven," Dave Butz said.
About the asterisk on the season: don't get too excited over it. For sure, the Redskins played six fewer games than most recent Super Bowl champions. For sure, the strike allowed them to avoid several rugged teams.
Bottom line is that the best team in the NFL won the Super Bowl. Played 13 games; won 12. For the record, 23 NFL champions have played 13 or fewer games.
An idea for Jack Kent Cooke: include the asterisk on each Redskins' ring. Make it a tiny diamond.