Thom Loverro: Redskins' Riggins had the stuff that dreams are made of

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Photo - Paul Vathis/AP
Hall of Fame running back John Riggins, who ran for 11,352 yards in his career, voluntarily sat out the 1980 season before returning to the Redskins in 1981.
Paul Vathis/AP Hall of Fame running back John Riggins, who ran for 11,352 yards in his career, voluntarily sat out the 1980 season before returning to the Redskins in 1981.
Sports,NFL,Redskins,Thom Loverro

The NFL Network recently aired a segment of "A Football Life" that was near and dear to Redskins fans -- the career of John Riggins.

The connection between Washington fans and the colorful Hall of Fame running back remains strong, perhaps because more than any other character he represents the glory days of the franchise -- even though he was part of only one Super Bowl championship team.

Joe Gibbs coached all three Super Bowl title teams. Hall of Famer Art Monk was part of those teams, as were the two anchors of the Hogs, Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby.

But Riggins was the leading man, the Humphrey Bogart of this Redskins story, the wise-cracking, drinking, tough guy whom other men revered.

"John was tough, endearing, unique and very passionate," his teammate Joe Washington once told me. "He had firm beliefs he didn't waver from."

It's funny: Joe Theismann sought out the spotlight whenever he could, but the truth is the spotlight always managed to find Riggins, whether it was by leading his teammates into Dallas wearing army fatigues or by telling Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to "loosen up" at a Washington dinner.

Many of the stories that have come to define Riggins are part of the NFL Network special, and it still is entertaining. But there is some revisionist history in the presentation.

"A Football Life" makes it seem as if Riggins went back to Kansas and sat out the 1980 season because he was devastated by the Dallas Cowboys' comeback victory 35-34 in December 1979 that ended the Redskins' season and kept them out of the playoffs.

That's not what former Redskins defensive tackle Diron Talbert once told me.

At 4 one morning in training camp in Carlisle, Pa., Riggins made up his mind to leave, and it wasn't because of the pain of the Cowboys loss.

"Riggins was banging on my door," Talbert told me. "He wanted to get in. He was yelling, 'Talbe, let me in. These guys ain't giving me no money.'

"He beat on the door and huffed and puffed, so I let him in, and we talked for a while," Talbert said. "He comes to the conclusion, 'Talbe, they're not going to give me the money I want. I'm going home.' I said, 'Well, get on out of here and go home.' So he left.

"The next morning I went to practice, and someone asked me, 'Did you hear about Riggo? He's in Washington at the Dulles Marriott and is fixing to get on a plane to go home.' He had driven back to Washington after he left my room. The next time I talked to him was two weeks later, and he was in Kansas. 'I told you I was going home. They ain't paying me.'?"

Riggins was not Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy radio character whose spirit was crushed by defeat. He was Bogie, and Sam Spade always got paid.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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