John Riggins 'A Football Life': Film Perfectly Tells Ultimate Redemption Story

Mike HoagCorrespondent IINovember 21, 2012

30 Jan 1983:  Running back John Riggins #44 of the Washington Redskins looks on during the Super Bowl XVII against the Miami Dolphins at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  The Redskins won the game, 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Allsport  /Allsport
Getty Images/Getty Images

John Riggins was truly one of a kind on the football field. Off the field he was just as unforgettable.

NFL Network's John Riggins: A Football Life tells the untold story of a small-town Kansas farm kid’s rise from unknown to Super Bowl champion to Hall of Famer to actor following his retirement.

Dan Steinberg, a blogger for The Washington Post, quoted a producer of the documentary that this was the best project he has ever worked on (via Twitter):

Producer of tonight's Riggo docu has worked at NFL Films 35 years, says this is best project he's ever worked on

— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) November 21, 2012

The Diesel’s path to stardom was not a sure thing, though. It came as a result of endless determination and a work ethic that was second to none.

His start as a New York Jets running back came with some struggles due to the team being completely under the thumb of Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath. As long as Namath was there, Riggins said, he would always play second fiddle in the Jets’ offense.

Namath had a high opinion of the hard-running fullback, though. While dipping with Riggins’ father at a local bar, Namath said his father never spit out his tobacco.

“This cat is tough, man,” Namath said of his father. “I see where John got it from.”

Being tough wasn’t everything behind Riggins’ ability to succeed. He had a deceptive speed and ability to read the field. He compared that ability to his time herding cattle on the pasture. Like the stray cattle, he said he maneuvered his way away from defenders to find space to run.

Finally, he thought, that ability was going to be utilized after he left for the Washington Redskins in 1978. It was there, though, that Riggins was turned into a blocking back in George Allen’s offense.

As soon as Allen was gone, new coach Joe Gibbs saw Riggins’ potential and started giving him the ball. That resulted in back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

That potential came to a point in the final game of the 1978 season. Riggins exploded for over 150 yards and also scored two touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately Roger Staubach and the Cowboys’ last-minute comeback ended the Redskins’ season.

With his spirit crushed, Riggins stepped away from the game of football at just 30 years old.

Joe Gibbs decided to bring him back after he returned home to Kansas. It would end up being a career-defining move for both Gibbs and Riggins.

The Redskins made the playoffs in 1982 and Riggins made every snap count. He finished the postseason with a record 610 rushing yards. He got his redemption against the Dallas Cowboys, too.

He put up 140 yards on the ground to send the Skins to the '82 Super Bowl to take on the Miami Dolphins. It was there Riggins achieved his dream of Super Bowl glory.

His 43-yard touchdown run with the Skins trailing put the team ahead, a lead they would not surrender. That run also enshrined Riggins as one of the most memorable players in Redskins history.

Washington Redskins fans voted the run in 2007 as the best moment in Redskins history.

Even after winning the Super Bowl MVP award and bringing the Lombardi Trophy to Washington, Riggins still had some gas left in the tank. In a sense, the best was yet to come. Like a fine wine, Riggins only got better with age.

At the age of 34 he ran for a career-high 1,347 yards and a then-record 24 touchdowns.

He didn’t retire for two more seasons at the age of 36.


*All quotes obtained from NFL Network’s airing of John Riggins: A Football Life which aired on NFLN on Wednesday, No. 21.