When it came to John Riggins everyone knew what to expect. He played by his own rules. He ran hard, and he ran his own way. He was just as likely to show up to team roles in army fatigues as he would in a tuxedo. However, when it was time to play football, he was a no nonsense running back whose strength and speed were only surpassed by his determination and toughness.
Riggins didn’t tire down as the game wore on. The more times that he got the ball, the stronger he seemed to become. The same applied to his NFL career. When other backs would lose a step as they aged, John Riggins picked up momentum with each passing NFL season. He was 35 years old when he recorded his sixth 1000 yard rushing season. While nobody knew what to expect from Riggins off the football field, teammates and fans could always count on exceptional play when it was time to play football.
While nevertheless playing at a high level, Riggins shocked the world when he retired from football after posting back to back 1000 yard seasons. One day he just walked out of the Redskins training camp in 1980 and announced his retirement.
Riggins played by his own rules. He was not happy with his contract and with football in general, so decided to leave on his own rules. After spending the offseason on his Kansas farm, he returned to Washington in 1981 and said “I’m bored, I’m broke, and I’m back” Riggins decided he was ready to play football once again.
After Riggins humbling declaration to return to football, he launched his second career as an NFL player. His one year layoff showed during his first season back, but by the end of 1982 he completely regained his form. Entering the playoffs he approached the Redskins coach Joe Gibbs and told him that if he could be given the ball 20 times a game or more, the Redskins would win.
Coach Gibbs took Riggins advice. The next three games, Riggins averaged 148 yards and 33 carries and led the Washington Redskins to Super Bowl XVII.
In the Super Bowl against the Miami Dolphins, the Redskins relied on Riggins heavily. His biggest play came in the 4th quarter. Losing 17-3 and facing fourth and one, Riggins took the handoff, darted to his left and raced 43 yards to the end zone. Behind John Riggins’ 166 yards on a record 38 carries the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl 27-17.
The following season at the ripened age of 34, John Riggins had his best year as a pro. At the time he retired, he was ranked fourth on the all time rushing list. It was a career that nobody could have expected. Nobody who didn’t understand the will and determination of John Riggins, that is.