Riggins proudest of saying 'Give me the ball'

Riggins proudest of saying 'Give me the ball'
July 4, 2013, 8:45 am
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John Riggins compares hunting to football

John Riggins accomplished a lot between the lines on the football field. The short list would include being the Redskins’ all-time leading rusher, getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and being the winner of Super Bowl XVII MVP award. But he is most proud of a football moment that took place not on the gridiron but in a small locker room in Herndon, Virginia.

It happened the day after the regular-season finale of the strike-shortened 1982 season. The Redskins had just beaten the Cardinals to wrap up home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

But Riggins wasn’t thinking about that game. He was thinking back three years earlier, when the Redskins had blown a chance at having home field advantage through the playoffs when they lost to Dallas in the 1979 season finale after holding a 13-point lead in the late going. The loss eliminated the Redskins.

Being so close to the division title and a chance at the Super Bowl and blowing it like that ate at Riggins. “It was a moment you thought you'd never see again,” he told CSN Washington last week.

It all hit Riggins as he was driving out to Redskins Park as the team started preparation for its first-round playoff game against the Lions.   

“Literally, my hair stands up on the back of my neck,” he said. “In acting, it's called emotional preparation, you're going to try to get into the emotion of the character when you go out of the stage.”

“I realize now that's what it was because I projecting about the opportunity that was before me. Here, finally, we had home field advantage. It was now or never. Really, the one thing when I got in the NFL that I always wanted to do was play in the Super Bowl. That's all I wanted.”

His mind raced during the 25-minute drive from his house to the team facility. “The whole way, my life is flashing before me—high school, college, the Jets, George Allen, the whole deal about coming here and playing and struggling a little bit,” said Riggins.

He was thoroughly fired up by the time he arrived at Redskins Park. The first person Riggins saw when he walked in was Joe Bugel. The offensive line coach was what Riggins called one of his “interpreters” who relayed messages back and forth between him and Joe Gibbs. “Joe and I gave each other a wide berth,” Riggins explained.

With adrenaline in full flow, Riggins went up to Bugel and said, "Give me the ball. I'm ready to go. It's my show, give me the ball."

Apparently this was a message that Bugel felt would best be delivered to the head coach in person. "Well don't tell me. Go in there and tell the old man yourself,” said Bugel, pointing to the coaches’ locker room.

After hesitating for a moment, Riggins went in and talked to Gibbs. "Joe, give me the football, I'm ready to play,” he said. “If I get tired, I'll let you know. Other than that, just leave me in the game and give me the ball. I'm your guy."

What followed Riggins’ big moment was somewhat anticlimactic.

"That's good to know John, thanks," said Gibbs.

Riggins said "OK", and walked out of the room.

“So that was it,” said Riggins. “I think I averaged 34 carries and 150 yards a game (in the Redskins’ run to the Super Bowl title), I guess he heard something.”

What took place in the playoffs, though, was just playing football as he had done most of his life. He is more proud of asking Gibbs for the chance to help carry the team than he is for actually putting it on his back and doing it.

“I've never been the guy to step forward and volunteer for anything,” he said. “But there was a lot on the line . . . it was my 12th year in the league and I knew this was the moment. If you don't stand up, the rest of your life you're going to be sitting there going, ‘I wish I would have said something’”.

“So at least I had what it took in that moment to raise my hand and say, ‘I'll go’”.

"Riggo on the Range", John Riggins' hunting and cooking show, will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet weekly starting this Saturday at 11:30 a.m. The program is sponsored by GEICO.