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The gift of a #44 John Riggins rookie card

John Riggins Football Card
Receiving a John Riggins rookie card maybe one of my favorite birthday presents ever!

Our friends Eddie and Lissette came to visit us where we live in Key West, and they gave me a birthday present. I opened the box and it was a John Riggins’ rookie card! 

Riggins got drafted by the Jets before I was born and he went on to play for the Redskins.  

Against the Dolphins in Super Bowl XVII, there were a little over 10 minutes left and Washington trailed 17-13. It was 4th and 1. 

Joe Gibbs decided to go for it and as they say, the rest is history. 

I was eight years old sitting about two inches away from my parents’ television. I remember wearing these blue pajamas with this little red t-shirt over the top with a screen printed yellow “44” on the front and back. My Grandma had it specially made for me. This is way before the NFL Shop, and way before the Internet. There were no kids jerseys back in January, 1983. 

Riggins took the hand-off and burst through the left side of the line through the attempted tackle of a Dolphins’ defensive back. Riggins ran 43-yards into football immorality…

There was this epic look on his face on that run. He had this raw and chiseled look of pure determination I have never again seen. It look reminded me of a face that could have been chiseled into Mount Rushmore. 

Riggins had this different side to his personality that deeply resonated with me as well. He once sported a Mohawk haircut and I remember him showing up at the White House wearing just a leather vest for a top.

I will never forget the story told about that Super Bowl run. Gibbs asked his offensive line coach, Joe Bugel about what he thought they should do on the 4th and 1. Bugel turned to Gibbs and said, “I like our chances with John Riggins against any safety in the league.” 

Some may say it was written in the stars that Riggins would become my favorite player. If you add up all the digits to my social security number, they equal “44.” 

My first NFL scouting job with the Jets came 16 years after that Super Bowl run.

It was there, I got the chance to meet my hero…

I was standing on the sideline watching practice. Bill Parcells turned around and said with a smile, “Hey Riggins, looks like we got ourselves a team this year!”

I turned around and there he was! Riggins was now covering the Jets with the media. I introduced myself to him and we got to talking about that run on 4th and 1. It was a moment I will never forget. Riggins signed a football for me, “To Dan, best of luck in the NFL #44 John Riggins.”

There will never be another John Riggins – – and yes – – I still say Redskins. I am the guy who has led entire sections in cheers at FedEx Field. 

When I was a senior in high school years prior, I sat lower-deck in the Bills end zone at Super Bowl XXVI decked out in a Mark Rypien jersey, Redskins hat and with red and yellow warpaint on my face. When the public address announcer said, “And now, let’s welcome our 1992 NFC Champion Washington Redskins…the boos from Buffalo’s fans were deafening…

I just turned around and held up my big yellow foam #1 Redskins hand and nodded my head yes over and over again. I can still see these grown men with blue painted faces with the veins sticking out of their necks screaming something at me. 

I got a tattoo of the Redskins logo on my right hand after the name change last year, to let everybody know what’s up. It is on the same hand as my Aaron Hernandez autograph (next to my right thumb) with the words under it, “John 3:16.”

I almost got hired by the Redskins in 2019 when I interviewed with Team President Bruce Allen, when he was there. He was talking to me about a position in coaching or scouting. This has been my lifelong dream to work for the Redskins, some 40 years in the making…I was so close…

Allen was dismissed a few months later, but trust you and me there is about as much chance of me being denied working with the team as there was of keeping Riggins out of the end zone on that 4th and 1 – – and no I am not vaccinated and I have no plans on doing so. 

Daniel Kelly is a former NFL scout with the New York Jets. He was hired on the regime which featured Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Scott Pioli, Mike Tannenbaum, and Dick Haley. He currently writes for Sports Illustrated Detroit Lions and he is a contributing evaluator for Draft Diamonds. For more information about him visit his website at whateverittakesbook.com. He can be followed on Twitter @danielkellybook and his Facebook page is WHATEVER IT TAKES NFL TALK. 

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