Redskins' top plays: John Riggins' run

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
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John RigginsManny Rubio/USA TODAY Sports
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This is the third of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. We've already featured Darryl Grant's interception return for a touchdown in the 1983 NFC Championship Game and Darrell Green's punt return to beat the Chicago Bears in a 1988 playoff game. Please vote for your choice as the Redskins’ most memorable play.

Score: Redskins 27, Dolphins 17
Date: Jan. 30, 1983 Site: Los Angeles Coliseum

To understand the moment, why it carried the weight that it did, it’s important to first look back. Like to the 1950s, when the Redskins posted two winning seasons. Or the 1960s, when they could score but not win. They managed a winning record once, in the final year of the decade. This despite several Hall of Famers on offense.

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Which is the most memorable play in Redskins' history?

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    16%
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The Redskins had not won a title of any kind since 1942. They had only reached the postseason seven times since that year (and five since 1945). Yet the fans showed up time and again, knowing what always awaited them in the end. Even when Washington had reached Super Bowl VII, it lost to undefeated Miami.

There was hope, though, with new coach Joe Gibbs, who led the team to an 8-1 mark in the strike-shortened 1982 regular season (his second in charge). Then three double-digit playoff victories put Washington into Super Bowl XVII.

But no titles ever come easy, and the Redskins trailed Miami 17-13 when they took over the ball at their own 18 early in the fourth quarter. They drove to the Dolphins’ 43, where they faced fourth-and-1 with 10 minutes, 10 seconds remaining.

John Riggins and the Redskins’ run game already had posted good numbers. So everyone had to know what would happen next: a handoff to Riggins. The Dolphins used a six-man front, which meant the play would either be stuffed or a huge one. The Redskins got the latter as tackle Joe Jacoby buried linebacker Kim Bokamper and fullback Otis Wonsley helped seal the end.

That left Riggins one-on-one with corner Don McNeal. Mismatch. Riggins swatted him away and the man nicknamed The Diesel chugged toward the end zone, running for the lead and a place in history. Diesel horns blared in the stands, a signature sound that season. And it became a run that is mentioned seemingly every Super Bowl week. It was the first of three Super Bowl victories under Gibbs, giving Redskins fans a taste of success that had eluded them forever.

For Riggins, it enabled him to post a Super Bowl record 166 yards rushing and then to make this statement after a congratulatory phone call from President Ronald Reagan: “At least for tonight, Ron’s the president, but I’m the king.” Decades of frustration had ended for Redskins fans. They, too, finally felt like football royalty.

John Keim

ESPN Washington Redskins reporter

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