So how will he go out? John Riggins surely will tap that keg of original ideas a few more times during his final weeks as a Redskin. But when? And with what sort of gusto? It's intrigue more compelling than whether the team makes the playoffs.

Newspaper stiffs often presume too much, that a player is over the hill a year or so before he actually mounts the summit. Many Redskins sensed this would be Riggins' final season before it began.

There seems no reason to think otherwise now. With a Marty Robbins tune, which he carried not nearly as comfortably as a football, Riggins admitted on his televison show the other night that his guest, George Rogers, had won their season-long duel.

That was reminiscent of the classy way Edward Bennett Williams publicly passed control of the Redskins to Jack Kent Cooke, saying at a luncheon for the team: "We abide by the Golden Rule. The one with the gold, rules."

The final plays for Riggins in RFK Stadium Sunday present a problem for Coach Joe Gibbs, who must balance how to beat the Cincinnati Bengals and also give his unique fullback a proper home farewell.

I say start Riggins. Introduce the offense and save him for last. Then pair him early with the Hogs, who were healthy enough to be reunited against the Eagles.

The week off ought to make Riggins as frisky as possible. Who knows? He just might have a bunch of productive carries left. Let him defy the football actuarial tables one last time.

There has never been a Redskin like Riggins. None who marched to a more daring or distant drummer. Since the team arrived here in 1937, a Sommer and a Winter have drawn Redskins paychecks. Also a Knight and a Day, a Nock and a Rock, a Gilmer and a Kilmer. Lots of loonies and one Looney, Joe Don. But no one who could raze a defense and then raise hell quite like Riggo.

Almost from the moment he walked into the NFL, people have been scratching their heads and mumbling: "How do you figure this guy?"

The day the New York Jets made Riggins the sixth player chosen in the 1971 draft, he was asked the predictable question: What's been your biggest thrill in sports?

"Watching my neighbor's pig give birth," he snapped.

Riggins either walked out of training camp or never arrived three times, once sitting out an entire season (1980) because the Redskins would not guarantee his contract.

"Need more green before I get mean," he wired Jets coach Weeb Ewbank during his first holdout, 1973. He had played for $21,000 and $23,000 his first two seasons, and seen another special fullback, Matt Snell, leave the Jets limping and underpaid.

"It's like we're in an auto race," he said of pro football 12 years ago, an outlook that probably has remained firm. "The coach is the mechanic and the team is his car. I'm a part, an expensive part, and I've got a price tag on me. If he wants to pay for this part, if he feels it'll help him win the race, then he'll do it. If he figures he can win the race without it, then he won't."

Ewbank eventually got his part, for three years, and for quite a lot less than what Riggins originally had demanded.

"It was the damndest thing," the small, straight-laced coach told writer Paul Zimmerman for a book on Ewbank's last season. "He signed the contract sitting at the desk in my office. He had on leather pants, he was stripped to the waist and he was wearing a derby hat with a feather in it (covering a mohawk haircut). It must have been what the sale of Manhattan Island was like."

In his lively NFL life, Riggins also has sported a goatee, ridden a motorcycle from Kansas to Washington and slept off a snootful on the floor of a ritzy party while the vice president of the United States spoke.

Riggins was very rich before his time, having taken advantage of one glorious year of genuine NFL free agency, 1976, and one grandly generous Redskins executive, George Allen.

Ironically, Riggins likely will carry the ball slightly more in his ninth -- and final -- season with the Redskins than he did in his first.

Although Riggins flatly insists blocking in Allen's tailback-oriented offense was as hard physically, those relatively inactive years as a runner might have prolonged his career.

With George Starke and Mark Murphy retired, Riggins in decline and Joe Theismann on the mend, the Redskins are without most of the dominant players Allen brought to Washington. Unlike the others, Theismann ought to work at returning for 1986 as hard as possible. Jay Schroeder still has not beaten Theismann on his own merits and a spirited training camp would make both better.

With Rogers and Riggins, it was touchy a good deal of this season. The scenario of Rogers winning the position and Riggins reduced to infrequent short-yardage plunges only came about last week against the Eagles.

Rogers responded with a Riggins-like 150 yards in 36 carries against a defense usually stingy against the run. Riggins joked that he injured himself slightly warming up Babe Laufenberg on the sidelines; shaking a fist, he added that Rogers would have gotten a worse beating on the sideline had he taken himself out of the game.

Theismann, who saw every bit of the pounding Riggins endured as a Redskin, sometimes shook his head in silent respect at its intensity. "He's a latent marine," the quarterback has said.

"A living representation of an old Hank Williams Jr. song," Starke said. "Hard-drinkin', hard-fightin', ornery."

Riggins has seen himself as an entertainer, Sinatra in cleats and chinstrap. He deserves RFK's grassy center stage one last time. The guess here is he'll know exactly how to handle it.