John Riggins opened his 14th National Football League season with a confession.
"I've been a baaaaddddd boy."
An amused pout formed on his lips. His tan face feigned sadness. The football field was blocks away, but he clearly was ready to play.
"We're not going to talk about it? My little incident? Or incidents?" he asked in mock horror of the 60 or so people gathered at the Washington Redskins' training camp this morning to hear his first news conference of the 1985 season.
Riggins talked, all right. He refused to delve into many specifics, but he took on nearly all subjects: his recent arrest on a drunk-in-public charge; his image following his comment to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "Loosen up, Sandy baby," even his drinking.
"I have a certain image that I suppose I've carried with me over the years," said Riggins, who Monday signed a one-year contract believed to be worth $825,000 and practiced for the first time this afternoon. "I'm not overly concerned about it.
"No. 1, I don't drive when I've been drinking and I think that's the most important thing.
"No. 2 is I don't have any problems at home. I have a happy family. I don't have a battered wife or abused children.
"And No. 3, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe I've ever suffered on the football field from my activities off of it. And I've never seen anybody go to jail because they were embarrassed.
"I've caused a little embarrassment, that may be true, but I don't think that's a particularly heinous crime today . . . I would rather be embarrassed the way I have been in the papers than to be embarrassed on the football field. That costs you your job if you get embarrassed often enough on the field."
Sitting in the Dickinson College cafeteria, with reporters as well as the kitchen help watching, Riggins, in khaki shorts and shirt, laughed off the affairs of the past eight months.
He was asked if he had a drinking problem.
"That's a good question. I think really I do have a drinking problem, but that's only when I'm hanging from the rafters by my knees," he said.
"Other than that, no. It goes down just like for everybody else."
Concerning his image, he said: "Let's face it: There hasn't been a president elected that got every vote in the country. There's going to be some people that are not happy with you, no matter what you do. Or, if you make them happy, the people that were happy with you, they're not going to be happy with you. I can't worry about everybody."
What about being a role model for kids?
The 36-year-old running back thought a moment.
"I understand the example thing for the youth of America," he said. "But, I don't think if everybody grew up to be like me it would be the worst thing that could happen in the United States. Maybe the second-worst, but not the worst."
He trailed off, but then there was more.
"Probably need a whole lot more police, though, wouldn't we, come to think of it."
His friends say John Riggins is at his best when he is making fun of John Riggins. It's his easiest subject.
"It's hard for me to stop and do a lot of thinking," he said, when asked if he is image-conscious. "I work best when I'm on my feet. For me to sit down and make out a game plan or outline of the way I'm going to do things usually doesn't work too good for me. So I don't think I will. I'll just try to hold it down a little bit."
Actually, it appears he will do more than try. He said Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke has not asked him to issue a formal apology for his behavior at the Washington Press Club's Salute to Congress dinner Jan. 30, where he made his comment to O'Connor and later took a 45-minute nap on the floor during a speech by Vice President George Bush. (Witnesses said he was drinking wine that night.)
But he apparently has promised Cooke and Coach Joe Gibbs that there will be no more stories like that, or like his July 25 arrest in Reston.
"I'm here to put it to bed that there won't be any more of these incidents, at least till I no longer wear the burgundy and gold," he said.
"I like to be who I am, and who I am is a guy that likes to have a lot of fun. I don't get in fights when I go to bars, and everybody who is around me usually enjoys themselves. That's not to say I can't be obnoxious, but that's usually the exception and not the rule," he said, laughing.
Riggins, who is believed to be the highest-paid running back in the NFL now, and perhaps of all time, said he doesn't know if this season will be his last.
"Obviously, it will be my last if I don't produce," he said. "It's hard to say. It's too far off. Besides, I'll hear this question another 500 times before the season's over with."
On the Redskins' depth chart, Riggins is listed where he always has been listed -- first team, although today he eased back to work doing very little running with the ball. Apparently, he will work behind offseason acquisition George Rogers for now.
With Riggins back, Rogers' fan club has grown by one.
"They've come up with one heck of a running back," he said of Rogers, acquired in the offseason from New Orleans. "In all the years I've played, at least in my NFL years, this is the first time I've ever had somebody that I felt was as good as I was. I'm looking forward to that.
"Whatever happens -- I've made this perfectly clear with Coach Gibbs -- the best man is the guy I want to see starting, and if it's not me, I'm not going to be moping around looking at the ground and making a bunch of excuses."
Riggins envisions a scenario in which the two backs, very similar in size and running style, share time.
"Hopefully, that will be one of the brighter spots on the team," Riggins said.
After suffering from back and hip problems last season, Riggins said he thought about retiring. But, after speaking with Gibbs about the team's prospects, he decided to return.
"I think this is a team that's going to do something great and you certainly want to be a part of that if you have a chance," Riggins said. "To come back and play on a team that was 4-12 would be very difficult for me. I think it's the idea of knowing we have a chance to win, and win big, that motivates a lot of guys. It keeps it from strictly being a 10-to-5 job."
Riggins, who said his back and hips feel fine, rarely strayed too near football in his half-hour with the media. (He also refused to discuss his contract.) The other subjects just seemed too interesting -- to him and to the reporters. One subject was the flowers and apology he reportedly sent to O'Connor.
"Gentlemen never tell," he said, then quickly added, "What do you want to know? I ain't no gentleman. Hey, what the hell?"
He still never told.
Someone also asked Riggins about how he wanted to be remembered, reminding him of statements he made last year about making a mark off the field as well as on it.
"Well," said Riggins, "I changed my mind.
"I don't want to be remembered."