Already, running back John Riggins of the Washington Redskins has carried the ball 54 times this season. And he's done it in two games. He's 34 years old, but still he's Riggo-drilling his way in a rather brutish routine.
"I always play as long as I can for as hard as I can," Riggins said Sunday afternoon.
That's when he ran for 100 yards on 27 carries in the Redskins' 23-13 victory at Philadelphia. That's when he carried the ball 19 times for 71 yards in the second half, all in the 98-degree heat while getting tackled on the pool table-like artificial surface of Veterans Stadium.
That is also when Riggins ran for a game-winning 14-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, tying Larry Brown's club record of 35 career rushing touchdowns.
"He was splattering a few guys out there," marveled Don Breaux, the running backs coach.
So yesterday, the question was posed: how many more games can the Redskins continue to run Riggins, whose 2,092 carries rank sixth in the National Football League record book, 27 to 30 times per game without suffering diminishing returns or physical burnout?
When the question was put to Riggins--who ran 27 times for 89 yards in the 31-30 loss to Dallas in the opener, also in 90-degree heat--he said typically, "I just listen to the play and try to execute. I'm not a student of the game."
"That's easy for me to answer," said Coach Joe Gibbs, whose 1-1 team will play Kansas City Sunday afternoon at RFK Stadium. "I talked with John before the season and said 'John, the only way for us to control it is for you to control it.' Now, obviously, we don't want him in when he's tired or hobbled . . . I told him the thing to do is when you're tired or winded, raise your hand, let us know, and come out (of the game) and we'll get someone else in there."
Redskins coaches said Riggins raised his hand once Sunday. They said he came out, then returned almost immediately.
"John has been around long enough," Gibbs continued. "He's smart enough to know when he's tired or when he takes a blow . . . You have to respect him. Other players I've been around might carry the ball 25 times in a game and can't get around for the next three-four days."
True enough, Riggins is in remarkable condition, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound back who makes the most of his 18 wheels. He is the back in the Redskins' one-back offense.
"As the game goes on," said center Jeff Bostic, "you really lose track of how many times the running back carries the ball. There will be situations when he won't have to carry the ball that much . . . John realizes how important he is to our offense."
Breaux concurred, saying, "I think (27-30 carries per game) is what John expects. That's the way he is mentally geared. I think that told us all something when he came into camp in such great shape and said, 'I don't want people to say No. 44 didn't prepare to win it (Super Bowl) again.' "
So, should people expect the mega-carry afternoons to continue for Riggins? He averaged nearly 20 carries per game (for a 3.1-yard average) during the regular season in 1982, 34 carries (for a 4.5-yard average) during last season's playoffs and is averaging 27 carries (for a 3.5-yard average) this year.
"Yes," Breaux said, quite simply.
"Deep down, I still don't believe he can do that over a 16-game sked. That would be a superhuman feat," said guard Russ Grimm. "Hopefully, it won't come down to too many games where we have to run him that much."
Grimm paused for a moment, then rubbed his bruised left shoulder. He knows the pain inherent for the men in the trenches.
"You can't see it from the crowd or the press box, but if people only knew what shots John is taking," Grimm said. "Right now, his body is sore. It's getting to the point where any time he breaks through the front line, there is a safety playing in tight. They are all taking shots at his lower body, his legs. It's really tough."
After watching game films of Sunday's victory and before watching the Chiefs play San Diego on Monday night television last night, the Redskins coaches were able to talk in positive words.
Gibbs praised the special teams, especially punter Jeff Hayes and kicker Mark Moseley. Moseley has converted six of seven field goals this season (although the miss, from 31 yards, was crucial in keeping the Redskins from beating Dallas).
Even Richie Petitbon, coach of the defense that sacked Ron Jaworski six times and that held the Eagles to 35 yards rushing on 21 carries (a 1.7-yard average), said of his run defense, "That was the game. It was excellent."
Specifically, coaches singled out strong safety Ken Coffey ("He played his best game by far," Petitbon said) and tackle Dave Butz, who had two sacks and pummeled running back Major Everett, holding him to no gain on fourth and inches from the Washington 16 in the second quarter.
"Dave just shoved the whole inside of the line back (on the play," Gibbs said.
General Manager Bobby Beathard said Howard Slusher, agent for unsigned cornerback Jeris White, now holding out, asked Beathard to trade White several weeks ago. Beathard said he checked with 10 to 12 teams. "Nobody was interested," he said . . . Linebacker Monte Coleman, whose bruised thigh has kept him from playing in the regular season, is not expected to play this week. When he will return is uncertain.