Analysis  

 

Super Bowl XVII rematch: Revisiting John Riggins' epic run

Print

To celebrate Super Bowl 50, NFL Media's Elliot Harrison is looking back at each of the 19 Super Bowl rematches on the regular-season schedule in 2015, revisiting the clashes of the past as former Super Sunday opponents square off once again.

This week's rematch: Miami Dolphins at Washington Redskins, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET.

Reunites the combatants from: Super Bowl XVII (Redskins 27, Dolphins 17) and Super Bowl VII (Dolphins 14, Redskins 7).

Beast Mode 1.0.

That's what you could -- no, should -- call John Riggins, an all-time power back who made a sprint for the ages 32 years ago in Super Bowl XVII.

It was January 1983, and the NFL was closing out its strike-shortened 1982 season with a literal bang: Riggins crashing into Dolphins corner Don McNeal before cruising 43 yards for the go-ahead score in Pasadena, California. The only difference between Riggins -- or "the Diesel," as he was called then -- and the real Beast Mode was that Riggins actually got the ball with the Lombardi Trophy on the line.

Most of the afternoon was a struggle for both offenses, as Washington and Miami jostled for position in a back-and-forth first half. Don Shula's Dolphins scored first, with David Woodley hitting Jimmy Cefalo on a 76-yard touchdown pass to go up 7-zip on Miami's second possession. Joe Gibbs' Redskins utilized Riggins and some misdirection plays behind a massive offensive line -- "the Hogs," as position coach Joe Bugel dubbed the unit -- to ultimately claw back to 10-all. The infamous group had the bacon taken out of its breakfast burrito when Miami returner Fulton Walker took the ensuing kickoff 98 yards to the house to make it 17-10, Dolphins.

And then Washington's power running game started chugging on the back of big No. 44 in burgundy and gold.

It's not that the Diesel didn't get the rock in the first half. He did carry the ball 17 times. But midway through the third quarter, with the Redskins trailing 17-13, Washington's offensive staff thought it was time to eschew its conventional offense and take it to Miami's top-ranked defense.

"We went to Plan B," Bugel told NFL Films. "Plan B was that we're gonna not fool around with any more misdirection ... we were gonna run directly at 'em. So Coach Gibbs told the team right then and there, 'We're gonna go back out, we're gonna establish the line of scrimmage, we're not gonna get impatient.

" 'We're gonna win the football game by running it.' "

Essentially, Gibbs, Bugel and the Hogs didn't give a frog's fat behind about maintaining balance.

The mercurial Riggins -- who announced his return to football in 1981 after a one-year hiatus by declaring, "I'm bored, I'm broke, and I'm back" -- would carry the ball 21 times in the second half alone, wearing out Miami's "Killer B's" defense and the game clock. Oh, and in the three playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl, Riggins had run it 25 times (versus the Lions), 37 times (versus the Vikings) and 36 times (against the Cowboys). Good grief.

Former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis, who would similarly carry a team on his shoulders to a Super Bowl victory a decade and a half later, remembers being a kid watching defenders try to rip Riggins' jersey off. Although Davis was not a big back himself, the Super Bowl XXXII MVP recognizes the uniqueness of both that brand of ball carrier and a player like Riggins.

"Those big, power backs are tone-setters," Davis said. "They really bring three things to the table. One, they keep you on schedule, so that the team can sustain long drives. Two, they set the tone for your offense. You want to set what your offense is going to be. Three ... they wear the defense down, and that's when the big runs come."

Take a look at the lastest art celebrating 50 years of the Super Bowl.

Riggins did all of the above in Gibbs' one-back offense, with his punishing style topping off the beating the Hogs would dish out to undersized defensive lines up front. He enabled the Redskins' offense to keep the ball away from the Dolphins for nearly 20 minutes of second-half game clock, including 15 of the last 18 minutes. Then came the Diesel's 30th carry of the day, which ultimately secured Joe Gibbs' first Lombardi Trophy.

Still down 17-13 with 10:28 left in the game, Washington found itself facing a fourth-and-1 from the Miami 43. No man's land. It was too far for veteran kicker Mark Moseley to boot a field goal, but close enough that a punt into the end zone would have netted 23 yards of field position. That just wasn't worth it.

If the Redskins were going to win, they'd have to pound out a hard yard against the NFL's best defense -- a defense that knew all too well what was coming.

Unlike Seahawks coach Pete Carroll in Super Bowl XLIX 32 years later, Gibbs gave his beast the football when everyone in the stadium expected it. The rest is history.

The play: "70 Chip"
The goal: To get Riggins in a one-on-one situation -- mano e mano -- with a defensive back.
The result: Poor Don McNeal was steamrolled.

Before the snap, tight end Clint Didier went in motion from the left side of the formation, then circled back. With a gliding start, he blocked the linebacker on the edge while mammoth left tackle Joe Jacoby blocked down on the defensive end. Riggins took the handoff and hit the hole off-tackle with a head of steam. A few yards past the line of scrimmage, McNeal met Riggins straight up ... before getting straight run over. Think Ricardo Montalban in "The Naked Gun". Post-collision, Riggins dashed to pay dirt like the high-school sprint champion he'd been back in Kansas.

It was the big play by the big back in pro football at the time. The Marshawn Lynch of his day had a game that will live forever in Super Bowl lore.

Historical symmetry

Lynch is known by many to be bit of an odd duck, with a penchant for Skittles as famous as his distaste for speaking to the media. The similarly colorful (though always quotable) Riggins once approached the first female Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, at a Washington black-tie event and said, "Come on, loosen up, Sandy baby, you're too tight."

Hey, he just didn't want her to leave.

Did you know?

Because Washington and Miami met in the Super Bowl, they were last in the following year's draft order. With the next-to-last pick of the first round of the 1983 NFL Draft, the Dolphins selected Dan Marino, while the Redskins took Darrell Green. Both went on to become first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

Print

Headlines

The previous element was an advertisement.

NFL Shop