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KU great to roam Super Bowl sidelines

Riggens to work for CBS Radio/Westwood One


By Rick Dean

Morris News Service

He came roaring off his family's farm in Centralia to brand his name into the football record books at The University of Kansas and eventually rip through NFL defenses like a runaway diesel.

John Riggins, a quintessential free-spirited athlete of the 1970s, once wore a mohawk haircut while playing on America's most visible stage with the New York Jets. He later negotiated his own release from the team by demanding a salary equal to that of Super Bowl quarterback Joe Namath.

He went on to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons with the Washington Redskins in 1978 and '79 before he voluntarily "retired" in 1980. He returned a year later only after Washington coach Joe Gibbs journeyed to his Lawrence-area farm in an attempt to lure him back.

"I'm bored, I'm broke, I'm back," Riggins said in explaining his return.

In 1982, he had an then-unprecedented string of four straight 100-yard rushing games in the NFL playoffs. The highlight came in Super Bowl XVII on Jan. 30, 1983, when Riggins was named the game's Most Valuable Player after rushing for a then-record 166 yards. The biggest came on a 43-yard bolt for the game-winning touchdown on a fourth-down play in the fourth quarter.

Since his retirement in 1985 after 14 NFL seasons, Riggins has been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1992) and has dabbled in acting. (He played an ex-Marine named Mitch Herndon in four episodes of "Guiding Light" in 1994). The colorful Kansan who once advised the first female justice on the Supreme Court to "Loosen up, Sandy baby," now has returned to New York where he works with a number of broadcasting ventures.

This week's assignment finds the 54-year-old Riggins serving as the sideline analyst for CBS Radio/Westwood One's broadcast of Sunday's Super Bowl in Houston. It will mark the first time he has been involved with a Super Bowl from the other side of the microphone.

Question -- Considering that you didn't much care for reporters during your playing career, working as one has to be one of the biggest ironies of your life, is it not?

John Riggins (chuckling) -- That only goes for you real journalists. Me, I'm an entertainer masquerading as a journalist. I don't think William Allen White has to worry about me!

Q -- Will working this game bring back at least some of the excitement you felt as a player?

JR -- Well, once you've played in this game, nothing ever matches that feeling. The stage is just so large, and if you play well, the rewards are so great. This isn't even comparing apples and oranges. It's like an orchard and an orange.

But this is going to be interesting for me, and I think I'll have a lot of fun. I've only attended one other Super Bowl -- in 1986 on the 20-year anniversary, and I left at halftime of that one! I don't think I can bail out at halftime this year unless Westwood One thinks I'm doing so poorly they ask me to leave.

In the past, I just didn't want to be bothered by all the hoopla of the whole thing. But after being away from it for a long time, I'm looking forward to it again.

Q -- The long run for the game-winning TD in Super Bowl XVII. Does that stand as the highlight of your athletic career?

JR -- Actually, there were some great moments leading up to that. Like beating Dallas (31-17) at RFK Stadium just to get to Pasadena. I'd been playing the game for 11 years then, and there'd been games where we were so close (to a championship) only to lose in the last couple minutes. You start thinking it's written in the stars or the cards that you're never going to get there.

Those games leading up to that were really defining moments. I remember driving to practice before our first playoff game with Detroit that year thinking we were as close as we'd ever get to having all the stars lined up. I literally had goosebumps from the rush I was getting! That's when I told the coaches, "Just give me the ball and everything will be all right."

It was the moment in time when you have to make your stand. Before that I was like: "If you want to give me the ball, fine. If you don't, that's OK, too." It was time for me to get greedy and put my thumbprint on things.

Remember, too, that I sat out the 1980 season, so I'd given away one year. I was just tired of taking it on the chin; I thought there had to be something better than playing football. But then my banker told me, "Look, I really don't want the deed on your house, but I will take it if you don't start paying your bills!"


Born: Aug. 4, 1949, in Seneca

Education: Centralia High School; The University of Kansas

Career highlights: High school quarterback, basketball standout and two-time state 100-yard dash champion at Centralia High School; Led Big Eight in rushing and scoring as senior at KU, where he rushed for 2,706 yards in three seasons and won All-America honors as a senior; Sixth player taken in 1971 draft by New York Jets; won berth in first Pro Bowl after rushing for 1,005 yards in 14-game 1975 season; Joined Washington Redskins in 1976 and had four 1,000-yard seasons before retiring after 1985 season; named MVP of Super Bowl XVII (1982 season) after rushing for record 166 yards on 38 carries with game-winning 43-yard TD in fourth quarter; best career season in 1983 with 1,347 rushing yards and then-NFL record 24 touchdowns.

Acting: Studied at William Esper Studio, New York; credits include "Gillette" on New York stage and role of Mitch Herndon on "Guiding Light."

Current: Football analyst for CBS Radio/Westwood One on Monday Night Football radio broadcasts and playoff games; does weekly football shows for Yankees Entertainment Service in New York.

Quote: "I never thought a pro career should go on for more than four years, like in college. Then you would be forced to get on with your life and into something else."

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