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Jack McCallum
August 17, 1981
Rookie Coach Joe Gibbs won't lack for an offense if John Riggins, Terry Metcalf and Joe Washington do their things
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August 17, 1981

The New Redskins Get A Running Start

Rookie Coach Joe Gibbs won't lack for an offense if John Riggins, Terry Metcalf and Joe Washington do their things

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The sweeping new look in Washington isn't confined to Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill. Out at RFK Stadium last Friday night, the Washington Redskins, a team that neglected to swing into the '80s last year, showed off their face-lift during a 16-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Gone was Jack Pardee, the head coach from the George Allen School of Defense, whose idea of a wide-open game was a dazzling 3-2 win. Gone, too, were all those senior citizens left over from the Allen era.

Wearing the head coach's headset on the sidelines was 40-year-old Joe Gibbs, a pepperpot who orchestrated the pass-happy, point-a-minute, bombs-away offenses for Don Coryell in both St. Louis and San Diego. And wearing Redskin uniforms and lining up in the backfield behind Quarterback Joe Theismann at various times were three household names whose minds and hearts and talents were far removed from the nation's capital a year ago: John Riggins, Terry Metcalf and Joe Washington.

Riggins and Metcalf, of course, weren't even in NFL uniforms in 1980. Metcalf became the first genuine NFL star to jump to Canada for big bucks, bolting from St. Louis to Toronto in 1978 and playing for the Argonauts the past three seasons. Riggins held out last summer, demanding that his annual salary be raised from $300,000 to $500,000, until the Redskins eventually put him on the NFL's "left camp—retired" list. That move kept Riggins the property of the Redskins and also removed their obligation to pay his salary. Riggins doesn't believe that the club had the right to put him in mothballs and he is fighting the Redskins off the field even as he carries the ball for them on it. The disposition of his case will be determined by binding arbitration.

Many NFL teams wouldn't have touched Riggins and Metcalf, but the Redskins opened their arms to them. The team needs Riggins and Metcalf because both have just what is needed to play running back in Gibbs' sophisticated offense—experience and pass-catching ability. So does Washington, who was in the NFL in 1980, 35 miles up the road in Baltimore, but not on the field as often as he would have liked. Washington lost his job to rookie Curtis Dickey midway through last season, and the Redskins were able to get him for a second-round draft choice.

Riggins, who played out his option with the Jets in 1975 and came to Washington when the Redskins won his services with a five-year, $1.5 million contract, has always been a formidable, if unpredictable, talent. In his nine-year career he has rushed for 6,822 yards, ninth on the NFL's all-time rushing list. In his last full season with the Redskins, 1979, he ran for 1,153 yards and led Washington to a 10-6 record. But his accomplishments on the field have often been overshadowed by his oddball behavior off it. As a Jet, he once sported a Mohawk haircut. On one occasion he showed up for practice with his toenails painted green. Asked, on the day the Jets picked him in the first round of the 1971 draft, to describe his biggest thrill in sports, Riggins replied, "Seeing my neighbor's pigs being born."

Since rejoining the Redskins, "quiet" has been the word for Riggins, who gained 17 yards in six carries, all in the first half, in the win over the Chiefs. He has said nothing to the press since his brusque statement in June about the reasons for his return: "I'm bored, I'm broke, I'm back." Walking around the locker room after Friday night's game, in underwear and cowboy boots, he warded off reporters with a friendly "How are you? I have no comment." He has said he's not angry at anyone, but doesn't want to discuss the inevitable subject of last season until after his arbitration case is settled.

There is no doubt about the first "b"—Riggins simply got bored tending to his 160-acre farm in Centralia, Kans. while the Redskins slid to a 6-10 season and a third-place finish in the NFC's Eastern Division. Broke he's probably not, though the loss of the $300,000 he's trying to reclaim through arbitration had to hurt. Back? Apparently so, but....

"We had to let bygones be bygones," says General Manager Bobby Beathard, who, unlike Gibbs, was around in 1980 when the Riggins-Redskin feud was front-page news. "We just have to hope he doesn't get some of the same ideas back in his head again. Hopefully, he's sincere about his return."

The cynical view is that the 32-year-old Riggins returned only to impress arbitrator (not one of those again) Bert Luskin, who is expected to rule on the case in October. (As befits our Age of Litigation, the last of five hearings on the case ended on Friday afternoon just hours before Riggins had to put on the pads.) If Riggins wins, he will be paid his $300,000 for 1980 and this season will be considered his option year. If he loses, he's out the $300,000 for 1980 and has this season on his contract plus an option year in 1982. One has to wonder how Riggins will feel about the Redskins if he loses.

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