John Riggins, who spent 14 years as a running back in the NFL,
has learned that performing for an audience of 78 can be as
rewarding as playing for a crowd of 55,000. The Hall of Famer
recently completed a monthlong run in Gillette, an off-Broadway
drama at New York City's tiny Storm Theatre. He played Mickey
Hollister, a drifter from Texas who comes to a Wyoming oil
boomtown to earn enough money to buy a fishing boat in Alaska.
Like any good actor, Riggins, 52, found a way to identify with
his character. "There was a time when that appealed to me," he
says, "but by the end of the play Mickey makes the decision that
you've got to fit in. You can't hunt and fish forever. You've got
to accept your lot in life. I think that's kind of where I am."
Such an attitude would have been unthinkable for Riggins three
decades ago. During his playing days--first with the Jets
(1971-75), who made him a first-round draft pick out of Kansas,
then with the Redskins--Riggins cultivated a reputation as an
iconoclast. At one time or another he sported a Mohawk, an Afro
and a bare scalp, while his off-field wardrobe ranged from
leather pants (worn without a shirt) to white tie and tails.
Most famously--or infamously--he urged Supreme Court justice
Sandra Day O'Connor to "loosen up, Sandy baby," at a 1985
banquet, before falling asleep on the floor. On the field,
though, Riggins was all business, rushing for 11,352 yards and
104 touchdowns. In '83 he put together one of the greatest
individual performances in playoff history, carrying the ball
136 times for 610 yards in four games and leading Washington to
a 27-17 victory over Miami in Super Bowl XVII. "A flake is
somebody who's undependable," he says. "I've never felt that way
After retiring in 1986, Riggins lived off deferred payments from
his playing days and made a few halfhearted attempts to live the
frontier life he had always loved, even residing for 18 months in
an Airstream trailer on his 12-acre property in Leesburg, Va.
After appearing in a play, in '92, he began taking acting
lessons. In 1994 he added television to the radio work he'd been
doing for the Redskins since '89. Divorced in 1991 from his first
wife (with whom he had four children), Riggins remarried in '96.
He and wife Lisa-Marie, a Fordham law student, have a daughter,
Hannah, who is five.
These days the small-town boy from Centralia, Kans., has made a
home for himself in New York City. Though Gillette received less
than a rave from The New York Times, Riggins remains undaunted
about his new career and about assimilating himself back into
"the machine," as he winkingly refers to society. "I don't know
how and why, but I've kind of become a city guy," he says. "I
like people. I like noise. New York is my town. Eventually you've
got to go back to town for beer anyway." --Mark Beech