John Riggins, the free-spirited running back who carried the Redskins to their first Super Bowl championship on his broad back, is among 15 finalists announced yesterday for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. George Allen, the man who brought Riggins to Washington in 1976, failed by a single vote to get on the final ballot.
Riggins is one of four players eligible for induction for the first time who advanced, joined by running back Earl Campbell, offensive tackle John Hannah and kicker Jan Stenerud.
Eight other modern-era players -- cornerback Lem Barney; offensive tackle Bob Brown; defensive ends Carl Eller, L.C. Greenwood and Jack Youngblood; tight end John Mackey; quarterback Ken Stabler; and wide receiver Lynn Swann -- are finalists. Also to be considered are Los Angeles Raiders managing general partner Al Davis, former Dallas Cowboys executive Tex Schramm and seniors candidate Stan Jones.
The finalists were picked by a mail vote of the Hall's selection committee, with the top 14 vote getters in a group of 64 moving on. Jones is the recommended nominee of the seniors committee.
Between four and seven of the candidates will be selected. Depending on the number of voters attending the Jan. 26 meeting in Tampa, it will take between 81 and 83 percent of the votes to be inducted.
The preliminary voting for the finalists was conducted in October, three months before Allen, the former Redskins coach, died on New Year's Eve of a coronary spasm at 72. Allen has been on the ballot since 1985, was a finalist in 1988 and will be on the preliminary ballot next year. Two other former Redskins, cornerback Pat Fischer and running back Larry Brown, did not advance but received enough support to be included next year.
Riggins's advance was never in doubt, according to Don Smith, spokesman for the Hall. "As the votes came in, he had significant support," Smith said. "There was never any question. George Allen was close; it was one vote, and that happens to someone almost every year. It's a tough field. Bud Grant has been a finalist and didn't make it this year. Bill Walsh was on the ballot this year and he didn't make it. They'll all be eligible again next year."
Riggins rushed for 11,352 yards and scored 116 touchdowns in 14 seasons with the Jets and Redskins. He was named the 1983 Super Bowl MVP, with 38 carries for 166 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown run that clinched the Redskins' 27-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins. He scored rushing touchdowns in a record seven straight playoff games and gained more than 100 yards in six postseason games.
Riggins could not be reached for comment.
At Redskin Park, Coach Joe Gibbs said: "That would be the first guy out of this era since I've been here. That would be great. He deserves it because of what he has done on the field and because of his personality. He's a dynamic guy, and I think he's done a lot of things on the football field. He's also added a lot to the game."
Asked about Riggins and the Hall of Fame last week, center Jeff Bostic said of his possible induction: "He could either have the longest or the shortest speech in Hall of Fame history. He could dress up in a coat and tie or a pair of cowboy boots and shorts. You never know. Could be in Army fatigues. Could be in spandex."
Staff writers Ken Denlinger and Richard Justice contributed to this report.