Forty Gut, 50 Gut, Riggins right, Riggins left, Riggins around end, Riggins ironing another defensive back onto the turf, Riggins, Riggins, Riggins, 37 times Riggins. When John Riggins was through with 1:05 to go last Saturday; he took off his helmet and bowed to both sides of RFK Stadium. He had rushed for 185 yards for Washington. The Redskins ran out the clock on a 21-7 victory over Minnesota, and pork futures were looking good. The Redskins now play Dallas, the only team that has beaten them this season, in the NFC championship this Saturday in RFK. The Cowboys get this free bit of advice: Watch for Riggins to carry the ball behind his vintage swine.
Of course, the 6'2", 230-pound, 33-year-old fullback, deer hunter and sphinx didn't beat the Vikings alone. Quarterback Joe Theismann completed 17 of 23 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Alvin Garrett had his second big game in a row, sneaking under Viking armpits for an 18-yard touchdown pass and a 46-yard flea-flicker that led to a TD. And the Redskin defense, which has now given up just 45 points in its last six games, held the Vikings to 79 yards rushing. Washington was also aided by the Minnesota receivers, who dropped perhaps a dozen passes, some because of intimidation, some because of the 44° chill; the shut-in Vikings haven't won outdoors this season.
But the game really belonged to the Hogs, that much-sooeyed group that blocks for Riggins, himself an honorary porker. Offensive Coordinator Joe Bugel created the fraternity in training camp to give recognition to those who root, faceless, in the pit, and he created a monster. In Washington, the fans have made a federal case out of the Hogs. A pig was brought to the stadium Saturday. Hog signs were everywhere: HOGTIE THE VIKINGS. WE'RE IN HOG HEAVEN. WE'RE HOG WILD OVER THE REDSKINS. THE HOGS THAT ATE MINNESOTA. This Hog business could get to be a boar.
When Hog Day Afternoon was over, Riggins didn't wait around for the reviews—he treats newsmen as if they were so many cornerbacks—but his praises were sung in both locker rooms.
"A Sherman tank," said Defensive Lineman Doug Martin of the Vikings.
"A Mack truck," said Viking Receiver Sammy White. "Or a bulldozer."
"Stupendous," said Redskin Coach Joe Gibbs. "Remarkable. Amazing."
"He can tote that rock, that's for sure," said Washington Tight End Rick Walker.
The first play of the game was a hand-off to Riggins off tackle, a simple 50 Gut. The second play was to Riggins. The fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth plays were hand-offs to Riggins. The Redskins have about 12 different plays designed for their single setback, but mostly Theismann calls Guts. "The Gut is our bread and butter," said Bugel. "I guess we ran the 40 Gut and 50 Gut 28 times. That just enables our linemen to come off and do the things they do best. Just straight-ahead power blocking."
In the Redskins' first drive, on third-and-goal from the three, Theismann fired the ball to Tight End Don Warren, who was alone in the end zone. Warren's route was supposed to take him into the corner of the end zone, but when he saw how crowded it was, he stopped and Theismann saw him. Then Warren, who is both a Hog and a member of the receivers' Fun Bunch, joined in the Bunch's Druid-like ceremony. Eight players crossed arms, leaped into the air and slapped palms.
At the tail end of the first quarter, Theismann threw 46 yards to Garrett down to the Viking 11, but even on that play, Riggins had a role. Theismann handed the ball to his fullback who, upon hitting the line, spun around and lateraled the ball back to Theismann, who then threw a perfect pass to the 5'7" Garrett. "That play's been in football since George Halas," said Minnesota Coach Bud Grant.
Riggins to the six, Riggins to the three, Riggins to the two, and the Redskins had a fourth-and-one. Now Riggins to the goal line. "That was a gut call," said Gibbs, meaning gut with a small g. It was also a 50 Gut, and Mark Moseley's kick gave Washington a 14-0 lead.
The Vikings and Quarterback Tommy Kramer were having their troubles. Not until the last play of the first quarter did Kramer complete a pass or get a first down. Three plays later he hooked up with Terry LeCount on a 42-yard floater to the Redskin 21. From the 18, Running Back Ted Brown went through a big hole, made a nice move to the left and caught a corner of the end zone. Washington came right back, a 30-yard pass to Charlie Brown putting the ball on the 24. After Riggins carried for six, Theismann hit Garrett on a post pattern. 21-7.
All the Redskins had to do in the scoreless second half was hand the ball to Riggins and keep Two-Minute Tommy in check, which they did, although Kramer did give them a scare or three. He found White in the end zone from 28 yards out in the third quarter, but White dropped the ball. Then on fourth-and-six, Joe Lavender tipped away a touchdown pass to Sam McCullum. White also flubbed three other passes. "I'll never forget this game," said White. "This is a hurting thing. I had a chance to be a hero. As it turns out, I'm nothing but the goat."
"Last year I felt we had to improve our aggressiveness," said Redskin Defensive Coordinator Richie Pettibon, once a jarring defensive back himself. "We stressed that in training camp, and it paid some dividends in dropped balls today."
In the meantime, Riggins paid dividends on offense. In the second half alone, he had 18 carries for 110 yards. The game was in such control that with 8:15 to go, the 54,593 fans started chanting, "We want Dallas! We want Dallas!"
With 4:17 to go, Riggins broke off his longest run of the day—29 yards. He got the call the next five times, and then walked off to a standing O. He stopped near midfield, doffed his helmet and bowed royally to the south and then the north. His 185 yards were a personal best, and his 37 carries a Redskin record.
In the last two weeks, including the Skins' 31-7 win over the Lions, Riggins had 304 yards rushing. Saturday's was his 20th career 100-yard game; his first came in 1972, when he was a second-year Jet out of Kansas. "I remember watching him with the Jets when I was three or four years old," said Redskin Center Jeff Bostic, who was only kidding. When Riggins left the Jets as a free agent after the 1975 season, he was courted by Grant and the Vikings. "I wined him and dined him," said Grant, who shares Riggins' fondness for the outdoors, "but the Redskins offered him more money."
In those days, Riggins was famous for his antics and beloved for his quotes. He sat out the 1980 season, and when he came back in '81, he was no longer talking to the press. That year he surprised people by rushing for 714 yards. "He's quicker this year," says Bostic.
Now 'bout them Hogs: Three of the starting five interior linemen, Right Tackle George Starke, Right Guard Fred Dean and Bostic had been cut by other NFL teams. Left Tackle Joe Jacoby was brought into camp last year as, Gibbs thought, a defensive tackle. When Gibbs found out Jacoby's 295 pounds were meant for offense, he almost cut him. Russ Grimm, drafted as a center in 1981, had to be moved to left guard because of Bostic's play. Together they did a great job Saturday on one of the better defensive lines in football.
"Calling them the Hogs helped them develop an esprit de corps," said Bugel. "I've never seen a more closely knit group. They're like real brothers."
In the third quarter Grimm's chin strap popped loose, and his helmet came down on the bridge of his nose. Afterward he wore crusted blood all over his nose as if it were a badge. He's the Hog closest to Riggins. "A handshake from Riggo is like 50,000 people cheering for you," said Grimm. "You love to block for him. Last week he sat in the offensive line meeting with us. He's just really down-to-earth. He could be wearing three-piece suits with the money he makes, but he just dresses in camouflage pants."
For one moment after Saturday's game, a shirt and pants were hanging in Riggins' locker. The next moment, the wire hangers were bare, swaying to and fro. Guts, but no glory.