When John Riggins’ name surfaces in connection with the 1982 season, the discussion is mostly about his magical feats in the playoffs.
In four postseason games, big No. 44 rumbled for 610 yards, including a Super Bowl-record 166 in a 27-17 win over Miami in Super Bowl XVII.
In the process, Redskins fans fell in love with the eccentric character who symbolized the lunch-bucket personality of that squad.
But in the regular season, Riggo’s numbers were mostly pedestrian – except for one game. On Sept. 19, 1982, he rushed for a regular-season-high 136 yards on a wet, sloppy field drenched by monsoon-like conditions in Tampa.
On one carry, Riggins went out of bounds and slid through the slush nearly to the wall that separated the stands from the field at Tampa Stadium.
Riggins, the featured back in the Redskins’ single-back offense, was workmanlike that day. He carried the ball 34 times to tie a team record set by Cliff Battles in 1937.
His methodical performance while running behind a soon-to-be famous Redskins O-line nicknamed the “Hogs” provided a sneak preview of the “Riggo Drill” that would be so prominent during the team’s glorious playoff run.
Despite a bruised hip, he rushed eight straight times for 51 yards during the last 3:36 to seal the Redskins’ 21-13 victory.
“John is like a slow-motion train running through that heavy stuff,” Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann told reporters afterward. “You just give him the ball and watch people bounce off him.”
The win lifted the Redskins to 2-0 and would have a significant effect on the team’s fortunes down the road – although few people knew that at the time.
With the National Football League Players Association and team owners locked in a dispute over terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, play came to a sudden halt.
The players carried out the first regular-season walkout in NFL history, citing interest in acquiring more shares of television revenues, among other issues.
There would be no football games for more than two months.
After play resumed on Nov. 28, the Redskins won six of their last seven games in an abbreviated season to finish 8-1 and in first place in the NFC, two games ahead of Dallas heading into the four-game “Super Bowl Tournament.”
They were assured of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
That’s when Riggins knew it was his time to put the team on his shoulders. He approached offensive line coach Joe Bugel with a simple request: “Boogs, give me the ball, and everything is going to be okay.”
“I got so excited, literally,” said Riggins, then in his 11th season. “It’s like imagination running wild. I was getting goose bumps. The hair was standing up on the back of my neck.
“I thought this is basically what you play the game for, and I suppose that I had been asking for my whole professional career.”
Riggins captured the moment with a legendary performance capped by his Super Bowl MVP performance.
He retired after the 1985 season as one of the NFL’s all-time leading running backs with 11,352 yards. Today, he’s one of the 80 Greatest Redskins and the franchise’s top rusher ever with 7,472 yards.
Mike Richman is the author of "The Redskins Encyclopedia" and the Washington Redskins Football Vault. He also hosts a TV show called “Burgundy & Gold Magazine.” His web site is www.redskinshistorian.com and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.