John Riggins considers himself an entertainer, a sort of Sinatra in shoulder pads. The games he plays, on and off the field, most often are done his way.

Riggins and the other aging leader in Washington, Ronald Reagan, hold press conferences about equally often -- and when the one at Redskin Park yesterday dwelt at extended length on the subject of retirement, scribes became part of an impromptu Riggo Drill.

The Hogs were somewhere else at the time, although blocking hardly seemed necessary. Part of the infinite wisdom that elevates reporters from, say linebackers, is knowing to step aside for 240-pound fullbacks on the loose.

"You guys are gonna try and get me retired right here, ain'tcha?" said Riggins, after being hit with that topic more times in 15 minutes than Bob Breunig has nailed him in years. Rising, Riggo brayed: "I've had enough of this nonsense."

And he snaked through a thicket of cameras and oddly shaped bodies and was gone. If the path to the end zone were as easy to negotiate, Riggins could play 53 more years.

In good time, Riggins will determine his future. He will listen to those whose opinions he values, and occasionally tolerate others. He will pay closest attention to assorted parts of his anatomy that lately have been screaming for a little tender loving care, for a change.

If it's not been his back, it's been his hip. Or his knee. Or somewhere else that after and being abused by half a ton of humanity about 2,700 times over 13 years is lividly angry.

Much of it ain't gonna get better, and Riggins knows that. But maybe if he retools the chassis in the offseason, and the Redskins allow him to downshift into a lower gear, The Diesel can last another year.

Why not?

All Riggins had these 16 hectic weeks was one of his best statistical seasons. He may have been in and out of the lineup, in and out of the hospital in fact, but he still averaged 3.8 yards a crack.

That's not a number that will cause doors at the Hall of Fame to swing wide; it's slightly better than last season and 1981, and quite a lot above his 1982 production.

A fellow who scores eight more touchdowns than Tony Dorsett ought not be put out to pasture just yet. Fact is, Riggins' 14 rushing touchdowns were what both 49ers backs, Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig, mustered.

Only whatshisstuff, the Dickerson pup in Los Angeles, had as many in the NFC. Walter Payton had 11; George Rogers had two.

Of the situations that define football, Riggins still is close to preeminent in two. On third-and-short and inside the 10, you would want the ball in Riggins' tummy.

"My offseason training programs have never been very rigorous," he admits. "Maybe I should start doing a little something. It's about time. I'm 35. It might not hurt going into camp in shape for a change."

Riggins would be "scared," he said, if he thought the season-long misery were "serious" or could not be corrected with rest and proper care in the offseason.

It is not likely the Bears will treat him as a precious antique Sunday, their franchise-long attitude being that they may not beat you but they surely will beat you up.

Riggins rather likes that.

"For some reason or other in the back of my mind," he said, "I think you kinda measure your own abilities against the Chicago Bears."

In the past two playoffs, Riggins has averaged nearly 34 carries in seven games. His back was mighty enough to carry 49 players and pull a bandwagon of millions to two Super Bowls.

No one, Riggins included, is close to certain whether that still is possible. He knows his desire remains strong.

"Whether I play next year or not is absolutely immaterial to me," he said. "I think what's important -- and Joe Gibbs has told us this, and it's so very true -- is that you never know when you're gonna get this opportunity again.

"There's guys here who'll play for another 10 years; this may be their last time in the playoffs. You just never know . . . I'm sure everybody on the team realizes that. We can sit here and say how hungry we all are, but we'll have to wait till Sunday afternoon to see who might want a second helping . . .

"I thought last year when we played in the Super Bowl, and got clobbered by the Raiders: 'Is this the last chance I'll ever get? Is this the last memory I'm ever going to have of the Super Bowl?'

"And when we started out this season 0-2, I began to think: 'Yeah, maybe it's gonna be.' But we fought long and we fought hard, and we got ourselves into a position where at least we've got a chance.

"That's all you can ask for."

Same with Riggins.

Nobody bangs into that much mayhem for that many years without a drive close to unique. You do not destroy a team's will by passing, Jim Brown keeps preaching; you do it the Riggins way, up the gut till somebody can't, or won't, resist.

So speculation about Sunday for Riggins, let alone beyond, is close to nonsense. But it's also compelling, and while an irritant to Riggins, helps generate that yearly $900,000 income.

Because he never shies from anything else, Riggins likely will not run from that kind of money. Having gotten his Super Bowl glory, does he feel any empathy for the Bears' Payton?

"I did kinda think about this in the field the other day," Riggins admitted. "I was just thinking: 'I hope I have that same feeling for him next year.' "