For 17 days John Riggins had stayed away from training camp in a contract dispute. Now, having just signed a one-year deal worth $825,000, the Washington Redskins' bulldozer of a ballcarrier naturally was itching to play. But first, press conference, anyone?
Riggins strutted into the Dickinson College student union cafeteria in Carlisle, Pa. dressed in khaki safari garb and his high-top sneakers. "I've been a baaaaddddd boy," the 36-year-old Riggins proclaimed. He cocked his curly head to the left, put his chin in his hand and settled into a childlike pout. The reporters were silent, and Riggins said, "What? We're not going to talk about it? My little incident? Or incidents!" A puckish grin came over his face.
He was referring to his July 25 arrest in Reston, Va. on a drunk-in-public charge (he maintains his innocence) and to his behavior at the Washington Press Club's Salute to Congress black-tie dinner Jan. 30, at which he told Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "Loosen up, Sandy baby. You're too tight," and then took a 45-minute nap on the floor during a speech by Vice-President George Bush.
Did Riggins think he had a drinking problem, somebody finally asked. "Only when I'm hanging from the rafters by my knees," he said.
The conference lasted for half an hour, during which the questions that hang over Riggins's preparations for his 14th season remained essentially unanswered. Will the bruised and battered body that has carried him to 10,675 career rushing yards, fifth on the NFL's alltime list, and a 1,239-yard season in '84—despite Riggins being kept out of 2� games with chronic bursitis in the hips—be able to withstand one more year? Where does big, quick, 26-year-young George Rogers, obtained in a trade with New Orleans April 26, fit in? And does Riggins have a drinking problem?
The next afternoon, after finishing his second workout, Riggins drove to Boiling Springs, Pa., a tiny town (pop. 1,521) five miles east of the training camp. Fully clothed, he plopped himself into Yellow Breeches Creek and let the cool water rush chest-high over his weary body.
Afterward, back in camp, his sopping wet clothes still clinging to him, Riggins spoke of the sometimes harsh light that has lately shone on him. "I run into trouble because I'm not self-conscious," he said. "It's hard to think of myself as Big John Riggins. I still think of myself as Bobby John Riggins from Centralia, Kansas. I go ahead and do something I want to do, then all of a sudden, I realize somebody's watching me.
"Sometimes I feel like people live vicariously through me. Like the black-tie affair. Well, I wish somebody else had done it. But I was perfect for the part. I've been embarrassed and humiliated by the boners I've pulled. I was embarrassed by what I said [to O'Connor]. You'd have to be dead not to be.
"I still can't figure out how it happened. I guess it happened because I was drinking wine and hadn't eaten. Wine can sneak right up on you, and, bam!"
Friends say Riggins sent flowers and notes of apology to O'Connor and the other women seated at the table, including his wife, Mary Lou. Could it be that Riggins is a softy at heart?