Ever the gentle sort, running back John Riggins decided to thank the Washington Redskins' offensive linemen, his fellow Hog-mates, at a banquet this week.

So he gave them each a rifle.

"They are Weatherby 460s engraved with our name on it. You use them to hunt elephants or rhinos," Russ Grimm, the offensive guard, said yesterday during this week's minicamp at Redskin Park. "They are the strongest rifles in the world. He gave us each one bullet, too, so we could fire the gun once to see how strong it is."

Offensive tackle George Starke said of the rifles, "I guess John gave them to us to show us he thinks we have the strongest offensive line around."

Ah, the Hogs. You remember them: the guys who last season created openings for Riggins in opposing defensive lines as well as in the National Football League history books.

In all, there are now 10 Hogs: tackles Starke, Joe Jacoby and Don Laster, center Jeff Bostic, guards Fred Dean, Grimm and Mark May, tight ends Don Warren and Rick Walker and Riggins.

Nearly two years ago, the name was created to reflect pride and solidarity in a group of players too soiled for fame to read their jersey numbers. But now, with Hog posters and Hog T-shirts hanging in stores everywhere and with fans mailing in cartoons of hogs, pictures of hogs, books of hogs and, once this offseason, even a few pork chops, the name has taken on even greater meaning.

The name "Hogs" has become so commercialized that Starke now says, "We're probably the most famous offensive line in history. I'm not saying we're the best. But people know us by the name . . . It is unusual for an offensive line to get so much attention."

"It's all mushroomed because of our success," Grimm says. "If we had finished 8-8 last year, instead of winning the Super Bowl, you wouldn't be hearing about us so much.

"It's come to the point where it's above our heads. People have the impression we're the most powerful offensive line around and that nobody can stop us. We'd like to think that, too. But we have to prove it now. We know people won't just fall down for us."

Aware that a New York Giants assistant coach once placed two Hogs posters in the Giants' locker room to incite Giants' players before playing the Redskins last year, Grimm says he expects this kind of thing to happen even more in the future. "We made ourselves a name. Now, we have to back it up," he says.

"When we started this, we wanted to come up with a name that would band the guys together," says Joe Bugel, the offensive line coach known as "Boss Hog" to his players. "Everybody liked the name 'Hogs.' It makes you think of a razorback or a wild boar in Africa.

"These guys work hard; they have a lot of pride as a group. 'Hog' is a term of affection," says Bugel.

These Hogs take themselves seriously. "A thing of pride," Laster calls it. "It's a symbol that shows that we just happen to have the best offensive line around."

Not to say they don't have some fun with the name. Listen to Starke talk about the time last year when Riggins wanted to join the club: "He was desperate to become a Hog. He said he was built like an offensive lineman anyway. So we voted him in before he did something weird."

How is the vote carried out? "Caucus," says Bugel. "Behind closed doors."

Rookie offensive linemen Bob Winckler and Todd Hallstrom stand in near reverence of the Hogs. They await the day they might be presented an official Hog T-shirt.

Winckler is a 290-pounder drafted in the sixth round from Wisconsin, where he was called the "Badger Blaster."

Hallstrom is a 6-6, 275-pound tackle drafted in the eighth round from Minnesota; He played most of last year with a chipped bone in his ankle.

Bugel thinks its possible they might earn a spot on the Washington roster this year; but become a Hog? That's tougher. "You have to have played the previous year to have a chance to get voted in," he says.

How overwhelmed with Hogdom are the rookies? "I'll hopefully work my way into the Hog tradition," Hallstrom says with all seriousness.

"To be able to say you're a Hog, let's just say it's something I would really want," Winckler says, reverently.

Reserve quarterback Tom Owen, who chose to remain with the Redskins rather than accept an offer from the Denver Gold of the USFL, admits "It would be pretty hard to leave the defending Super Bowl champions" . . . Dean, who is still unsigned, reported to minicamp yesterday after missing the first several days for personal reasons . . . Minicamp will end this afternoon. Included in this final workout will be the 12-minute run players are required to take. The team will regroup July 13 for training camp in Carlisle, Pa.