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John Riggins Interview: One-On-One With The Redskins Hall of Fame Legend

Shae Cronin@@BetBigDCCorrespondent INovember 28, 2010

30 Jan 1983:  Defensive lineman Lyle Blackwood #42 of the Miami Dophins lunges at running back John Riggins #44 of the Washington Redskins during the Super Bowl XVII at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  The Redskins won the game, 27-17. Mandatory Cr
Getty Images/Getty Images

Very rarely do fans get the opportunity to speak one-on-one with their sports hero. However, and fortunately for myself, I was given that opportunity on November 18th and was able to talk to Washington Redskins legend, John Riggins. Also known as Riggo and The Diesel, Riggins is 16th all-time in rushing yards with 11,352 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

Most commonly known for his play “The Run” against the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII, Riggins was given the ball on a 4th and 1 and broke a tackle in route to a 43-yard touchdown. Riggins helped the Redskins win that game with 166 yards on 38 carries and he was named Super Bowl MVP.

Riggins played 175 games in 14 seasons, had 13,442 total yards (11,352 rushing and 2,090 receiving) and 116 total touchdowns (104 rushing and 12 receiving). Riggins rushed over 1,000 yards five times in his career and over 100 yards in 35 games, including a then-record six in the post-season. He rushed 251 times for 996 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine post-season contests. He was the second player ever to rush for over 100 touchdowns in NFL history, and the first to do it since Jim Brown reached the milestone in 1965. He is also the holder of more than a dozen other NFL records.

Below is the transcribed version of my conversation with The Diesel. To no one’s surprise, Riggins is as cool on the phone as he was on the field. In fact, it felt like a normal discussion amongst fans. He is the true definition of a guy that is humble and down-to-earth. But even so, I’ll admit I was nervous.

Shae Cronin: Mr. Riggins, I want to first thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. Not in a million years would I have imagined that I’d be talking on the phone with The Diesel. This is certainly an ever-lasting memory for me.

John Riggins: Well it’s my pleasure. Thank you.

SC: What can you tell me about your involvement with the Van Heusen Pro Football Hall of Fame and the 2011 Fan’s Choice?

JR: The votes don’t actually count, per say, but it’s a great opportunity for the fans to influence, if you will, the guys that do vote.

They’re going to take a look and see what the fans think. And I know there’s a lot of guys that have been overlooked, and once that moment in time [when you’re eligible] passes, it takes a while to come back around again and guys tend to kind of fall through the cracks. It may never even happen again. But with Fan’s Choice, it really has the potential for fans to keep those deserving names alive and keep them current.

SC: Taking a quick glance, I saw former Redskins Doug Williams, Gary Clark, Charles Mann and Dexter Manley are all in the top 60 for the Fan’s Choice Class of 2011. I think it’s kind of neat to see those guys getting the credit they deserve.

JR: Well Joe Jacobey is another guy on that list, and he deserves to be there.

You mention Dexter, I actually work with Dexter on our postgame shows that air on MASN following each Redskins game. Not only do I really enjoy working with Dexter now, I enjoyed working with him then. As a talent, he [Dexter] had such a unique ability to rush the quarterback and he had an  incredible motor.

SC: You yourself are already a true Pro Football Hall of Famer. What does it feel like to be a part of such an elite fraternity?

JR: I think it’s something that everyone recognizes as the pinnacle of any achievement in sport. All the fame and all the recognition that we single out in various industries, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is really special.

SC: I think we both agree that Donovan McNabb is a bit of a politician when it comes to dealing with the media and he’s almost guilty of being a little too professional. What do you make of McNabb claiming that he will retire a Washington Redskin?

JR: Well he clearly doesn’t control that, so take from it what you want. McNabb doesn’t really have the authority to say what he is or isn’t going to do. I mean, he didn’t have to sign the deal and he approved the trade to Washington, but he doesn’t necessarily control his time here.

Here’s what’s surprising, though, about the whole thing: By signing this deal, McNabb has anchored himself to this team. And after what went on between McNabb and the Shanahans (believing reports), I gotta wonder why he would want to stay here.

If you really think that you’re the player that can get a team to the big game and get a ring, then you gotta be thinkin’ by now that this team is not what you expected. Not that he [McNabb] has any power over it, but Andy Reid was supposedly looking to avoid sending McNabb to the “worst” place, such as Buffalo or Oakland. But at this point, McNabb may actually be thinking that he was sent to the worst place.

As McNabb, you may wanna get out of here. Taking a contract with a team where the Shanahans don’t appreciate what he does, the staff doesn’t really like his tempo, or something like that, and all these other nitpicky things about what he does.

Now I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s you, but if I’m McNabb I’m going, “I don’t think I need to be playing for these people.”

So to me it’s confusing because there’s a serious contradiction there. And like you said about McNabb being the politician, he’s saying all the right things. But truthfully, he’s like a boxer in a clinch and he’s just hanging on. That’s the way it feels to me, anyway.

SC: I agree. Now, with all of the talk in the area about McNabb and Mike Shanahan, it seemed as if the fans kind of forgot about Albert Haynesworth. But then he decides to take a nap during a play on Monday Night Football and we’re reminded that he’s still the same guy. What do you think the future is for Haynesworth and the Redskins? Are you believing reports that he’s gone after this season?

JR: For starters, I wouldn’t take him to Tennessee, I’d just leave him here (in Washington). But I think it’s already been made very clear that you don’t want this guy playing for your team.

My feelings are that, at the end of the season, they have to do something. I mean, how can you have a guy on your team that’s the highest-paid player and he doesn’t even start? I’ve never seen anything like it. He plays 30 plays a game that are tailor-made for him, and I don’t think you need that. You clearly don’t need that.

SC: Yea, I think it’s definitely more of a detriment than a benefit. But does any of that fall on the shoulders of Shanahan?

JR: In my way of doing things, he’d [Haynesworth] be gone already. Here’s what makes it weird – I don’t think this team is what people thought it would be and I don’t think Shanahan is running this team like people thought he would.

Bruce Allen is the beard, just like Vinny Cerrato was the beard, and things are still the same as they were.

If I’m in the locker room, I cant even look at that guy [Haynesworth]. Who needs this around here? We’re gettin’ our asses kicked and this guy is layin’ on the ground?!? Pleeease.

SC: I had a crazy idea of possibly drafting a mid-to-late round quarterback prospect in this year’s draft to kind of come in and learn under a veteran like McNabb, ala Aaron Rodgers. What are those chances and how would you feel about the idea?

JR: Well don’t forget about the guy they picked up from Baltimore, this [John] Beck fella. I think they might feel that they have something in him. And the point is, it would be nuts to pay a guy $15 million a year just to be a tutor to somebody.

Now I don’t think McNabb is a $15 million per year guy, I think he’s a step or two below that, but if the team does pay him that much then I think it’s too much for a tutor salary.

Now, I think if they rip up this deal and make him a new one that pays something around $8 million per year, then obviously it’s okay to tell him that he’ll soon be handing the team over to a learning youngster.

SC: A huge struggle this season for the Washington Redskins is on third down. Through nine games this season, the Redskins are dead last at 21.6-percent. It’s obviously important, but how does a football team correct it?

JR: Well it’s a huge problem, and the fact that you couldn’t even pick one up on Monday night is pretty bad. It’s nothing that’s going away and that’s where you have to look at this offense as being blown completely sideways.

SC: The offense looks nice at times and lost at others. But I have this feeling that third-down is where the money is made. It’s a piece of the game where one team just has to be flat-out better than the opposition. I feel like it’s about emotion and drive from within the player, when it comes to third-down. Is there any truth to that or am I completely nuts?

JR: It’s hard to say, although there is a situation that can happen from time-to-time when you get into dire straights in anything that you do. When things are going awry, it’s time to put the blinders on and do your job. Just do your job. Don’t worry about the other guy, don’t worry about the wins and losses, just worry about what the very next play is.

Take Cooley for example, and I’m not picking on Chris, but the focus may be in the wrong place right now. He mentioned Tennessee and if they can win that game then they can think about the playoffs. You don’t need to use the word “playoffs”. Don’t even worry about this game, it’s not your concern. It’s Shanahan’s concern, he monitors the X’s and the O’s and the wins and the losses. You worry about what was that play, what’s the next play, and what do I have to do.

SC: Moving to the other side of the ball, the Redskins underwent a makeover on defense this season as they took on Jim Haslett’s 3-4 scheme. Although they do force turnovers, which is a huge plus, they currently are last in the league in total defense, allowing over 400 yards per game. Do you think this has more to do with the scheme and sacrifice, or more so with the team using 4-3 personnel to play a 3-4 scheme?

JR: I think it’s a little bit of both. When I look at ‘em, they’re never really in a straight thirty-four at any given moment because there’s always guys standing up and tryin’ to confuse everybody. It’s working on me, but not so much on the guys they’re playin’ against. When I look at ‘em, I don’t think the defensive line gets much of a push up front. Their defensive backs are alright and their linebackers seem to be getting the job done, but there’s not enough push up front. You have to start up front. When you see teams that get the job done, even going back to the 80’s and early 90’s, you had an offensive line and a defensive line that was really stout. And that’s where this team is weak, on both sides of the ball.

SC: I’m glad you brought up the offensive line. As a guy that knows a thing or two about the importance of an offensive line, what do you make of the Redskins offensive line? In particular, the rookie Trent Williams?

JR: He’s [Williams] a keeper, there’s no doubt about that. He’s gonna be fine. He’s got great feet on him, which is key for a tackle. He’s got a great body. He actually reminds me, physically, of Dan Dierdorf, a guy that came into the league the same year I did – who also has a bust in Canton. He’s got that square body type and he moves his feet well with great strength. All he needs is more experience and he’ll be fine. But after that, this unit is very thin. There’s really not much left.

SC: Thin indeed, and that’s the last thing you want to struggle with when you’re a part of this division. Like usual, the NFC East is tough this season. How do you see the playoff scenario working out in regards to this division?

Do your feelings change about the Eagles’ potential or the divisional outlook after watching Michael Vick rip the Redskins to pieces on Monday Night Football?

JR: Clearly the Eagles were a part of it before Monday night but everybody is gonna be super impressed with them now. I would say that they won’t win the rest of their games, they may, but it isn’t gonna be like that [Monday] for each of their remaining games.

We saw the Giants basically do the same thing. They won five in a row and then Las Vegas had them as 14-point favorites over the Cowboys. Then the Cowboys come in and just completely control them.

But still, they’re a team [Giants] you have to think about and I think the other team is the Eagles. The Redskins, I believe, are fading. I think the Cowboys may actually be on the upswing – that maybe Jason Garrett has reenergized this franchise. Where they were once, perhaps, considered an easy win, I think now it’s going to be a much more competitive game against Dallas.

But at the same time, you have a Minnesota team that you originally thought would give you trouble, but I think that’s a team that you really have a chance with and a great opportunity to win. Then take a Tampa Bay team that you looked at as an easy one when the season began… now they’re a team that is starting to find itself. And now that game isn’t so easy. So as the season plays on, you see teams develop and evolve, and you see others start to fade.

SC: Injuries have continued to kill this team so far this season. What’s the future of the Redskins’ backfield?

JR: Well, I tell ya, [Keiland] Williams played fine on Monday night and he was one of the few bright spots. I think Torain is another good back but injuries seem to be a part of his resume, which is never good for a running back. So even when Torain shows flashes, you gotta question him a bit. But I thought the kid, [Darrel] Young played well the other night too.

SC: It doesn’t surprise me that you were impressed with the smashmouth running of Darrel Young, the converted linebacker.

JR: Portis, on the other hand, tore a muscle, he had a concussion last season and all the other injuries before that – he’s falling into a category. Of course he’s not the same player that he was when he first came into the league and I think he’s, ya know, slowly fading out. Who knows?

SC: Yea, sad to see Portis’ career dwindling off. What’s your take on the current NFL running back? Are you a fan of the two-back, thunder-lighting type of backfield?

JR: Well, it depends. If you end up with that sort of talent, then there’s certainly nothing wrong with it. I think the New York Giants do the best job of using that two-back system.

SC: New York, as much as I hate to say it, have an extremely threatening backfield – a true display of thunder and lightning. I also think of teams like Carolina and Arizona, who seem to really rely on two running backs.

JR: We did the same thing in the early 80’s. It was Joe Washington who was more of the third-down back and I played more on first and second-down. Now I don’t know if they really do it that way anymore. Now, anyone can come in on any down and be really effective.

More than likely, it’s very odd nowadays [because of specialization] that you leave one guy out there for all three downs. Ya know,  a guy that will also carry the ball 25 times a game. You don’t see that too much anymore. If there are some, there aren’t many.

SC: I always think of Steven Jackson as a workhorse of the present day NFL. And speaking of “workhorses”, you served as a center piece for the Redskins during their “glory days”. Us fans haven’t seen anything worth talking about (arguments allowed) since 1991. Call me selfish, but how much longer do we have to wait and what exactly are we missing?

JR: I think, really, it’s the way they’ve tried to put this team together. For the last ten years…

When I look around at the teams that are having success like Baltimore, Atlanta, and even Kansas City or Oakland, Denver is almost there – the philosophy is to go with younger guys and draft. And they just don’t do that here.

At the end of the day, this is professional football and they don’t let people in for free. Today, it’s about profit and making money. I’m afraid that it’s all obscured because everyone is saying, “Well look at all the money they spent on these guys.” But it’s not about how much money you spend, it’s about how wisely you spend it.

Haynesworth is a classic example, and he’s only one of many. They need to build their team through the draft, get themselves a young quarterback to develop, and look forward to a successful future.

Every year they’re trying to plug guys into a new system here in Washington and it just doesn’t work.

SC: Unfortunately, it seems like we’re still pretty far away from a legit Super Bowl run. But, just as a little Super Bowl reminisce for a selfish fan, it was a 4th and 1 and the Dolphins called a timeout. After that, it would forever be known as, “The Run”. What did you guys discuss during that break? (Referring to Super Bowl XVII)

JR: You know what? I don’t recall. Maybe Theismann had the play but I don’t think he had called it yet. He knew what the play was going to be but he just sat on it until we went back on the field. We went out there and Theismann said, “Let’s go.” He just called the play, we went up to the line, and I just ran the damn thing.

SC: That’s awesome! You make it sound so easy. Did I mention the ‘Skins are thin at running back right now?

Concussions have been a frequent topic amongst the NFL lately, most recently with the comments of Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. What are your takes on concussions in the NFL and their significance?

Note: Ward was pulled out of a game because the coaching staff noticed that he got up from a tackle kind of funny. Ward believes that it’s his body and that he has the right to decide whether he wants to continue to play.

JR: Oh it’s an issue and I don’t know, because of the way the game is played with guys running at each other, how to handle it really.

Accidentally bumping heads is still going to happen, so I don’t see how there’s really anything anyone can do about it. It’s weird to see that this is the first season that there’s all this attention drawn to it – with checking these guys out and various protocols. It makes you wonder how many cases were entirely missed?

It’s interesting. You go back ten years, well three or four years really, and you ask yourself how many guys sustained concussions and just kept on playing?

But as far as Ward goes, I think that’s why they got a guy in the corner [in fights] that throws in the towel – because some people don’t know when to get out of harm’s way. And the league is just being ultra-conservative right now.

I’ve talked to a few people [neurologists] that are saying, like a lot of things in life, that some people are more genetically inclined, simply because of their DNA, to sustain more concussions and have greater long-term effects than other people. But there’s still so much to learn about it.

SC: Absolutely. I saw that ESPN issued a poll asking a question to the effect of, “Should players be allowed to decide whether or not they re-enter the game after sustaining a concussion?” To me, you football players are tough guys. Assuming that the player can stand, I’d say players would opt to return to the field 99-percent of the time.  There’s no way we leave it up to the players, right?

JR: Yea, I agree with that. I mean, myself, ya know…you can get wrapped up in something because of the heat of the moment and, ya know, the emotions that are flying around. Ultimately, this is a job and it’s in the entertainment business. And it’s fantasy, really. I mean, what is a game? We contrive a game and then we go play it. So it’s really just play. There’s life after football. You have to have somebody around to let people know that it is just a moment. Someone has to cool their heads, standby, and say, “You can’t go back in there.”

SC: Well Mr. Riggins, I greatly appreciate you taking the time today. As one of the greatest football players to ever play the game, and a true sports hero of mine, it has been a pleasure and an honor to talk with you today.

JR: With all my pleasure. I appreciated talking to you.

SC: Thanks, take care.

JR: So long.

A truly unbelievable experience for me. A very special thank you to BleacherReport.com for the opportunity and to John Riggins for being so great on and off the field.







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