"I want the ball," Riggins told Gibbs.
"The ball, give me the ball, I want it."
The result was a fistful of records and a Super Bowl ring and MVP trophy. For Riggins it was a dramatic turn of events because when the strike began he wasn't even sure if he wanted to go back and play football again. Then the NFLPA games came up, and the zany in him was aroused.
"Two games in two days, I liked the idea of it," he says. "A doubleheader, a barnstorming tour, yeah! After I'd played on Sunday in Washington, though, I was tired and really wasn't too keen on the L.A. game. But I saw some guys who said they'd play in it and then they backed out, and I didn't want to be one of them.
"They gave me the L.A. game plan just a few hours before the kickoff. I expected to sort of split time with the other fullback, Mike Guman of the Rams. At halftime I said to him, 'Hey, Iron Mike—they do call you Iron Mike, don't they?—you might have to take the second half.' You could say I put in a brief appearance in the second half."
Riggins tells the story with obvious relish. He's sitting at the breakfast table at his home in Lawrence, Kans. staring out at a spread that includes a barn with seven stalls for horses he has never bought, a stretch of pastureland meant for corn and alfalfa he has never planted, and row upon row of neatly baled hay for cattle he has long since sold.
The tale of the NFLPA strike games is Riggins' kind of story: bizarre, incongruous, sort of the flip side to the standard NFL saga of promise and fulfillment. Most of the humor is directed at himself, which is one of Riggins' most captivating traits as a storyteller. There's an unmistakable strain of honesty in this, another Riggins trademark: "They backed out, and I didn't want to be one of them." The message is clear, and it's the same message Riggins has been delivering since he was old enough to put on a helmet: This is my way, and until you can show me a better way, please leave me alone.
"Stubborn, hard-headed, always was since I was a little kid," he says. "Look at those buildings out there. One of them's got 25 rolls of barbed wire in it that I've never used. The back scratcher for the cows, the feed pump, all those steel posts...I got a lot of that stuff eight or nine years ago, back when I was actually pretending I was a farmer."
He gets up and pours himself a cup of coffee. All of a sudden the kitchen seems too small. There's a room-filling quality about Riggins as he strides around in a red warmup suit.