Do you think he left a wake-up call with the waiter? . . . What'll he say now? I swigged. I snoozed. And I snored? . . .
Almost everyone I talk to has the same reaction to L'Affaire Riggo. First, they laugh. Next, they shrug their shoulders and, in a tone you use to explain why the puppy made on the rug, say something like "That's Riggins for you."
Almost no one seems offended.
Not the people from People magazine, who invited Riggins to sit at their table at the Washington Press Club's Salute to Congress. (Which he did. Until he tired of the small talk and fell asleep on the floor.) Gerry Clifford, the magazine's Washington bureau chief, said Riggins was "funny and amusing." As a result, she said, "The evening was not as stuffy as usual."
Not Virginia's Gov. Charles Robb, who called it "a very memorable evening" and left it at that.
Not even "Sandy, baby."
Not only does no one seem eager to condemn Riggins for what certainly appears to have been drunken behavior in public, but people I spoke to -- admittedly caustic, cynical types -- were gleefully defending what Riggins said and did as appropriate in context. Theirs is the "Riggo as Surrogate" view, in which Riggins lives out our fantasies by: falling asleep at a formal, political dinner, snoring through the vice president's speech and loudly telling the female associate justice of the Supreme Court to "loosen up . . . you're too tight." Yesterday, an editorial in the Atlanta Constitution held how "Riggins was only doing what dozens of others may have longed to."
I admit one of my early reactions was laughter, at the scrumptious irony of Riggins behaving that way in a formal setting. What, after all, did they expect of him? Riggins has made himself the most popular athlete in this city at least in part because of his unconventional behavior. The mohawk haircut, the top hat and tails, the battle fatigues, the deep bows, they're all part of the persona that is part Peter Pan and part James Dean, and now, apparently, part "Arthur." It shouldn't surprise anyone that Riggins would behave in an outrageous manner. What's black-tie to John Riggins? Caveat emptor. If it's John Riggins you want, it may well be John Riggins you get. And it may be that a headstrong pursuit of geekdom is what that dinner deserved.
So, you might ask, what's the problem? This is Riggins we're talking about who acted silly. Not Ed Meese. Not Sandy, baby. If they had pulled a stunt like this, it would be scandalous, because the political dinner is their arena, the black-tie their uniform. Riggins plays in a different arena, with a different uniform and a different code of conduct. He has so much going for him in terms of his popularity and his well-established image as a rogue that this won't be his undoing. People -- the public and the magazine -- doubtless will forgive him and continue to embrace him as a charming iconoclast, even as they stare at the photo clearly casting him as a stuffed puppet being led dangling from the floor.
I don't think what Riggins said to Sandy, baby, is a problem. Who knows? She may need to loosen up. And I don't think snoring through George Bush's speech is a problem. I'm told that sleeping is in vogue in this administration.
But I think Riggins could have a problem.
Surely we can agree that there is a public standard of behavior that should be appropriate for everyone -- from punter to president, in black-tie or blue collar -- and what Riggins did was not up to that standard. And that surprised me, because I thought Riggins much sharper than that. He has been a holdout, a walkout, a flake and a Hog. But he never before has been a fool.
In this business, as in all others, you hear things. I have heard that the Redskins have been concerned about Riggins for a while now, and that they have received phone calls and letters from private citizens saying that Riggins has been seen behaving in a manner indicative of apparent intoxication. My feeling has always been that when a public figure is spotted in a bar, one beer gets reported as 10, so I routinely discount such whispers. And I consider it significant and praiseworthy that Riggins did not drive home from that gala, but had a driver. Still, the more times you hear somebody talk about smoke, the more you wonder if anything's on fire.
There are lots of ways to read what Riggins did the other night, and one of them is as a call for help. God knows, we have enough athletes making headlines for sex, drug or alcohol abuse; sometimes I don't know whether to call a player at his home, or just leave a message at the Betty Ford Center. But I believe a public figure ought to be held to a higher standard than a private figure, that a public figure has that added reponsibility. Want it or not, it comes with the territory.
Some years ago, when Riggins -- bored, broke and back -- returned to the Redskins from a walkout, he said, "I miss the little kiddie atmosphere. If I leave football, I have to grow up."
He was 31 then, and, as his next four seasons proved, approaching the peak of his powers. He is 35 now, and openly talks of retirement. Even if he doesn't wish to acknowledge it, there is an alarm clock ticking with his name on it. And when it rings, there will be no sleeping through it.