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Know Your KU History: John Riggins

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Some people didn’t understand John Riggins. He didn’t care.

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Punishing. Powerful. Outspoken. Different. Many adjectives have been used to describe John Riggins. None of those words can be confused with the word subtle. Riggins was a force of nature on the field, and off the field, he has a strong and vocal personality.

Here are a few examples:

After he sat out one NFL season with a contract dispute, upon his comeback he said: "I'm bored, I'm broke, and I'm back"

At a Washington Press Club event to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: "Come on, loosen up, Sandy baby, you’re too tight." Read the whole thing here, it’s pretty great.

On the fans of the Dallas Cowboys: "An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend any amount of time with a Cowboys fan."

On his life’s philosophy: "Football was never my life. The guys [and] the relationships were my life. I have an ability to relate to damn near everybody."

The Centralia (KS) High School phenom came to the University of Kansas and made an immediate impact on the football program in 1968. He ran the ball 139 times for 866 yards and six touchdowns for the last conference championship team that Kansas has fielded. He scored a touchdown in KU’s heartbreaking twelfth man loss to Penn State.

After a down 1969 season, Riggins really burst onto the scene in 1970. He led the Big Eight in rushes (209) and rushing yards (1131). He also scored nine touchdowns that season en route to his second all-conference selection and a unanimous spot on the All-American team. Over his three-year career at Kansas, Riggins set the all-time school record for rushing yards with 2659, breaking the record once held by fellow Hall of Famer Gale Sayers. He now stands as the school’s fifth leading rusher.

The New York Jets took Riggins with the sixth overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft and he immediately got to work in the NFL. He started all 14 games as a rookie and ran for 769 yards while scoring three touchdowns. Riggins had his first 1000-yard season in 1975, his final year with the Jets, and made his only Pro-Bowl that season.

Riggins finished out his NFL career with the Washington Redskins playing nine solid seasons in the nation’s capital. He helped Washington to a win in Super Bowl XVII where he rushed 38 times for 166 yards and the game-winning touchdown. It’s the best performance from a Jayhawk in Super Bowl history.

He ran for over 1,000 yards four times during his stay in Washington, including a career high 1,347 yards in 1983. He led the NFL in rushing touchdowns that season with 24 and was selected as an All-Pro by the media. Riggins only fumbled the ball five times in 375 carries.

In his career (regular season and postseason combined), Riggins ran for 12,348 yards on 3,167 carries. That’s an average of 3.9 yards per carry and is the definition of punishing. He scored 128 touchdowns in his career and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

Riggins has gone on to act in movies and daytime TV, and for the past nine years, he has been a football commentator on national radio.  I bet he’s had some pretty awesome one liners.