Today we go back in time in NY Jets franchise history and highlight the career of NFL Hall of Famer and former Jet, John Riggins. Yes, not only did John Riggins play for the Jets but he actually had five very productive seasons for the team.
Riggins sustained such a long and illustrious career with the now-Washington Football Team, but many of today’s fans forget that he spent his first five seasons as the workhorse fullback of the NY Jets.
Back in an era when the fullback position was not only more utilized but was also much more diversified, John Riggins excelled to the fullest. He was not only a powerful and speedy running back but also an exceptional receiver out of the backfield.
Riggins could run over defenders with his large powerful frame or utilize his prior sprinter’s speed and beat them to the outside. At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, he was an imposing presence on the football field and earned the nickname "the Diesel."
Riggins was characterized at times as being arrogant and cocky but was also a tireless worker and always gave 100 percent effort on the field. To some degree, he was a trend setter with his signature Mohawk haircut and outspoken demeanor.
John Riggins excelled in high school and college before joining the NY Jets
Before John Riggins ever stepped on an NFL Football field he excelled on the gridiron in both high school and college.
At Centralia High School in Kansas, Riggins not only set records at the running back position but was also a standout basketball player and a track star who set school and state records in the 100-yard dash.
Riggins received All-American recognition in football, was a two-time All-State selection in Basketball, and twice won the Class B State Title in the 100-yard dash.
After high school, Riggins received numerous scholarship offers but at his father’s urging chose the University of Kansas. Riggins made an immediate impact on the team and in his first season even shared the backfield with his brother Frank.
Riggins was an All-American and a two-time Big Eight Conference First-Team selection for the Jayhawks. He also helped lead Kansas to a Big Eight Conference Championship in 1968.
In his senior season in 1970, Riggins rushed for 1,131 yards and scored a then-school record 14 touchdowns. All told, Riggins would compile a total of 2,726 rushing yards in his three years at Kansas breaking Gale Sayers’ career rushing record for the school at that time.
Riggins’ accomplishments at Kansas resulted in the NY Jets selecting him with the sixth overall pick in the first round of the 1971 NFL Draft. He was also the first running back chosen that year as well.
Unfortunately for Riggins, the heyday of the Jets was now long over and he would endure five seasons of mediocre to bad Jets football. In spite of that, Riggins played very well and put together several outstanding seasons for the team.
In his rookie year he became the first player to lead the team in both rushing yards (769) and receptions (36).
In year two, Riggins gained over 944 rushing yards in spite of missing the last two games of the season with an injury. He also came within four yards of Matt Snell’s single-season rushing record that year.
In 1975, his final season with the Jets, Riggins would become the first running back in franchise history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. He was selected to the Pro Bowl that year and was also named team MVP in both 1972 and 1975.
In the end, Riggins chose to move on from the Jets not because of the money but because of being in the constant shadows of Joe Namath. Both players liked and respected each other, but Riggins knew that as long as Namath wore a Jets uniform he would always be second fiddle.
John Riggins would then go on to have a record-setting career in Washington. In spite of his bruising style of play, not only did Riggins set many age-related records but he actually gained more rushing yards in his 30s than he did in his 20s.
Riggins won a Super Bowl in 1982 and was also named MVP of the game. He rushed for a then-Super Bowl record 166 yards on 38 carries.
In 1983, Riggins rushed for 1,347 yards and a then-NFL record 24 touchdowns. He helped lead Washington back to another Super Bowl appearance that year, but this time, they would lose to the Los Angeles Raiders.
John Riggins was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1992 as well as Washington's Hall of Fame in 1990. Looking back now, one can only wonder what might have been.
The NY Jets would go on to become a playoff team in 1981 and would even make it to the AFC Championship Game in 1982 before losing to the Miami Dolphins 14-0.
If John Riggins had been part of those strong teams there’s no telling how far the Jets might have gone.
Riggins may be remembered by most people for his time with Washington, but for me, he remains one of my all-time favorite New York Jets.