What did you expect from him? You didn't honestly think he would be a good scout and let them decide where and when and how they'd toss him over the side? You couldn't seriously believe he'd sit still for the gold watch and the pat on the head?

John Riggins has never done anything their way, or your way. He does things his way. If that happens to dovetail with someone else's wishes, fine, that's a fortunate coincidence. If not, tough. A man walks the high wire long enough, he gets accustomed to the sway.

Joe Gibbs reportedly thought it was a confidential chat he had with Riggins the other day, when he told Riggins: You're a step slow. Gibbs believed Riggins would keep that confidential? What did he think Riggins would do, say thanks and retire quietly?

John Riggins doesn't make it easy for you.

You want him gone, you've got to fire him.

"It's very unusual for a player to announce that a player is being waived," Riggins said Tuesday. "Have you ever heard of a player making the announcement? I'm doing it because I feel it is important for the public to know how I feel." Isn't that just like him, to flaunt convention so richly, so egotistically? He challenged "anybody who wants to be the starting running back to a 60-yard dash at minicamp." A 60 mind you, not a 40. Don't you love it? One more thumb of his nose at the establishment: If that's your problem, that I'm too slow, let's see how slow I really am. I'll take 'em all on.

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer," Henry David Thoreau wrote, advising, "Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."

Hey baby, let's dance.

He's disaffected and he's deliberate, and often he's disarming. He's bored, he's broke, he's back, and he's bowing to the crowd. He's in tails, and he's in fatigues. He's a Mohawk and he's a marine. He's at ease under a spotlight, he's drunk and asleep on the floor. He's a character and a caricature, a comic and a cartoon. He's James Dean, he's Peter Pan. He's by you so fast, he must be doing 80. All you see is a turned-up collar. All you hear is a strange voice singing, "I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up, not me. (Not I.) Not me!"

It is often said, with regret, that too many great athletes don't know when to leave, and wind up hanging on pathetically, like broken hood ornaments. But it's not just the great athletes who go kicking and screaming. Almost everyone does, only nobody's there to film the .235 hitter getting the door. Who bleeds for the mediocre?

You can't stay too long. There is no too long. And it's not just the money, it's the whole package, it's being young and invincible and a hero and floating along on soft, satin pillows and dreams. The truth is, the money's way down the list. It's not what athletes miss most. What they miss most is the absolution. We pamper and coddle our athletes, forgive them almost anything if they can get the runner in from third. We admire them, grovel in front of them and hold them to a lesser standard of behavior if indeed to any standard at all. They are in a state of grace: adults adored and paid to play the games of youth. They are our surrogates, our golden children. They know it, and they love it.

For as long as they can play those games they don't have to grow up. They can live in the world without being of it. Why leave gracefully? For what? What's ahead of you? Can it be as fine or as much fun as what you have now? Are you really eager to get to the place where people have forgotten your name? All your life they told you to play hard and play well. If you can't play anymore, what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to act? Who are you supposed to be?

Have you ever been applauded? Wondrous, isn't it? Imagine how thrilling it must feel to hear it day after day, week after week, year after year. There was a piece by Gay Talese about Joe DiMaggio that started with Marilyn Monroe returning from entertaining the troops in Korea. She giddily told DiMaggio of the thunderous ovations she had received, and preened confidently, "Joe, you've never heard anything like it." And DiMaggio said simply, "Yes I have."

That's why Riggins still wants to play even though he knows his time is up. He knew it last year. You could see it on his face as he stood on the sideline while Rogers and Griffin carried the ball. Riggins didn't fight it. At times he looked relieved to be where he was.

Professional athletics are a business. Coaches can talk all they want about "family," but when they decide a player is no longer functional, he's gone. The Redskins are in the process of shedding old skin: Riggins, Theismann, Moseley. Some will say that Riggins was cut because of his personality; he is the kind of employe who requires what management now calls "high maintenance." To the contrary, Riggins' profile prolonged his career. He was a star playing for an owner who admires and likes stars.

Although he was a lot of trouble -- dangerously close to more trouble than he was worth -- he was never less than interesting. He had spirit, and in an existential way, virtue. More often than not, it was a dazzling combination.