The uniform in which John Riggins greets reporters after games is a burgundy-and-gold robe. Stitched to the back is "Kid Sheleen," the tipsy Lee Marvin character in "Cat Ballou" who sobered up to save Jane Fonda and her ranch.

"Apropos, eh?" he said.


The 36-year-old "Kid" was the major focus of attention during and after the game yesterday, which meant that the Redskins had returned to times of yore with their 24-3 victory. To being blissfully boring.

The sweet sounds and sights in RFK Stadium are diesel horns saluting Riggins and the football being treated as a pinball by the Washington defense. That the Redskins' vital signs are strong was reflected in their vital statistic: time of possession.

They had the ball for nearly 41 of the game's 60 minutes. The Lions also left the field with a 3-3 record, but feeling woozy and clearly not in the Redskins' league just now.

Riggins had not expected to carry the ball so often (21 times in three quarters) or so far (114 yards). With George Rogers, Riggins' role at such an advanced football age is to pummel defenses early and hop off his rocking chair to muster first downs and touchdowns from short distances.

"I'm more used to three-round smokers than 15-round brawls," he admitted. Make it 12-rounders, for the lead was safe enough for Riggins to run just once in the fourth period.

Before the game, when defensive coach Richie Petitbon asked him how the Lions looked, Riggins said: "Just bad enough to scare you."

They were tamed before halftime.

So revitalized have the Redskins become that Steve Cox kicking off deep into the end zone is no longer always a wise idea. Earlier, that would have been the best possible strategy, for it meant the opposition could only gain 20 yards instead of 60.

Yesterday, the Lions were brave enough to return three kickoffs -- and never got past the Detroit 18.

"Feels like a team now," Riggins said.

Well, some polish could be added to that pass play in which Riggins is supposed to sail something strong and spirally Clint Didier's way.

With a couple of Lions pawing him off his feet and another all but inside Didier's jersey, Riggins threw the ball toward the only open Redskin: George Allen.

Allen is a Redskin in memory these days. He was 15 or so yards from the sideline, waiting for the halftime ceremony that would include his leading the crowd in three cheers for the team.

Riggins' flutterball, its parachute having failed to open, landed about four feet from the man who hired him for the Redskins in 1976.

"Ironic," Riggins said.

But not purposely so.

The Riggins credits yesterday read: robe and stitching by wife Mary Lou; direction by Hogs; timing by himself.

Every Redskins fan, from the White House to the White Tower, knows that the play Riggins ran for his second of three touchdowns is called "counter-trey."

One reason it has not always been potently productive lately is that Riggins has been arriving at spots where holes are supposed to be before his blockers can get there to create them.

This time, he waited for Russ Grimm and some others to wipe out a pride of Lions -- and the Lions' pride. With much open field early, Riggins carried two tacklers into the end zone.

The other touchdowns were a five-yard surge that resembled a giant wave crashing a white-striped shoreline and a one-yard plunge that Gary Clark may keep from happening with experience.

Riggins moving higher in 100-touchdown company that includes Jim Brown recalls Bobby Mitchell's lament when he and Brown were in the same Cleveland Browns backfield a generation ago.

It frustrated Mitchell that he would rip off, say, a 50-yard run to the one -- and Brown would get called to tote the ball into the end zone. Finally, Mitchell figured the proper path to glory: haul the ball all the way yourself.

Got it, Gary?

When Riggins was asked whether his emotions were especially swelled by being the only other NFL player besides Brown to score 100 rushing touchdowns, he joked:

"I play the game for fun and money, not necessarily in that order."

It will be fun for the offense to watch plays such as the one on first and 10 from the Lions' 37 early in the second quarter.

The Redskins seemed to be telegraphing their punches even more than usual. The motion man, Didier, all but stopped behind right guard Ken Huff, as though jogging on a treadmill.

Teams already know Riggins only runs sweeps to throw passes; to complicate the crowd Didier would be drawing toward the guard-tackle hole, Riggins and quarterback Joe Theismann had a fender-bender collision on the handoff.

The play still gained five yards.

Unlike most bouts with brutes, Riggins said he was unable to shake a sluggish feeling by using oxygen between possessions. Fortunately for him, this opponent wasn't Michael Spinks.

Laughing, Riggins admitted to some bruises but added: "I'll probably be harder on myself tonight than anyone was on me today."