Smiling and joshing with an air as gentle as the breeze blowing across the wheat fields of Kansas, John Riggins held a press conference today, chugging his way through the first Riggo drill of the Washington Redskins' new season.

"To keep from walking a circle the rest of my life," Riggins said, "I need another (Super Bowl) ring on my finger."

This was only one of a jillion gems, so many regal witticisms, that came today from the mouth of Riggins, the Redskins running back who gained the Super Bowl XVII most valuable player award by gaining 166 yards in 38 carries to mash Miami.

Speaking before 40 reporters and six television cameras at the Redskins training camp, Riggins wore a white tank-top shirt, red shorts, sandals, a white straw hat and the contented look of a 33-year-old fullback at the peak of his 12-year career.

Humbly spoken, he admitted, "I'm on as high an up as you can get."

He remains unique, as ever, a man whose career extends from comparisons to Gale Sayers as an all-America at the University of Kansas to wearing a Mohawk haircut in the early '70s to wearing top hat and tails at a Super Bowl party this year.

As Joe Washington, another veteran back, says of Riggins, "He beats to the tune of a different drum. And it's an offbeat tune. Not just boom-boom-de-de-boom-boom-boom. It's more a boom here and a de-de-boom-boom there. It may sound offbeat to other people, but to Big John, it sounds just right."

Today, this is what sounded just right to Riggins:

Asked if he had done any postseason endorsements, Riggins said: "I was approached by a few people, but that was mainly after midnight in bars."

Asked to compare defensive end Dexter Manley's Mohawk haircut to his own Mohawk of years ago, Riggins said, "You have to get right on top of Dexter to see his (Mohawk) . . . With mine, you could see it from 100 yards away."

Asked how he would depart the game of football, once he decides to retire, Riggins said simply, "By helicopter."

In two weeks, Riggins will turn 34. He is less than nine years younger than Coach Joe Gibbs ("Don't remind me of that, please," Gibbs pleaded with a chuckle). He has carried the ball 2,038 times in 11 seasons, fifth most in NFL history. He has gained 8,089 yards (4.0 yard average), seventh most in NFL history. During the playoffs last season, he represented 43.4 percent of the Redskins' total offense.

"This year, I guess I will do whatever is required of me," Riggins said. "Like your favorite fishing pole, when you want to get the big one, I'll always be there."

There was a look of true contentment on Riggins' face today. "I think he had a lot of fun last year," General Manager Bobby Beathard said. "I think he wants to have more fun this year."

At the Redskins' minicamp in May, Riggins was overweight.

Today, muscles bulged from Riggins' biceps. The 240 pounds packed on his 6-foot-2 frame looked absolutely solid. He is in shape. "Pride," Beathard deduced.

"I did one thing different in this offseason: I worked out a little more. I felt because of the situation we were in, we would come under the microscope. The fact that San Francisco stumbled last year (after winning the Super Bowl) and that Oakland stumbled the year before that (after winning the Super Bowl) and now that people say we are going to stumble . . . So (I decided) that when judgment is passed, they aren't going to blame Big John.

"So I got myself ready to play this year. Of all the years, I think I'm more physically and mentally ready to play this year. I spent a lot of time in the offseason doing things, working out with Nautilus.

"I'm happy because we are Super Bowl champions and it's nice to be in that position. For so many years, I've never felt that feeling . . . It's just that feeling of success. The people of Washington were so happy that you just can't help but feel happy yourself . . . Now, I don't want to disappoint the people of Washington or the people across the country."

Disappointment didn't enter the Riggins vocabulary last year when he gained 553 yards during the eight games he played in the regular season, then hiked to the summit of his professional life by gaining 610 yards in four postseason games.

"I've never seen the (Super Bowl) game film," Riggins said, which is like Clark Gable saying, perhaps, that he had never seen "Gone With the Wind."

Riggins then placed his own importance to the Redskins this year behind that of the defense, behind that of quarterback Joe Theismann and kicker Mark Moseley. Then he said he never seriously considered the offer from the Michigan Panthers of the United States Football League in the offseason and that last year, when injury had left the Redskins offense full of holes, he told the coaches, "Heck, I'll take the damn thing (football), and let's just see what happens."

Furthermore, Riggins said, again flashing a smile, "I think I'm going to drop out of the Hogs because I can't stand the notoriety. They're getting too much publicity for me . . . or even for Joe Theismann."

He said he can't wait for the Sept. 5 season-opener against Dallas, Monday night at RFK Stadium. "Of all the things that have happened, the biggest charge is yet to come. I'll be very disappointed if they don't introduce the offense (before the game) that night. I'll tell you, there will be goose bumps an inch tall."

Finally, some 38 minutes after he had started his own press conference, Riggins said he would talk to the press next right before the Dallas game. Then, he stood up, banged his right fist on the table before him, and said, "Okay, meeting adjourned."