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Saturday, October 13, 2007

KU football great Riggins gets warm reception at Late Night

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KU fans anxiously await Late Night

Several KU fans waiting for 'Late Night in the Phog' to begin talk about why they love the Jayhawks.

'Late Night in the Phog' thrills attendees

'Late Night in the Phog' officially started the 2007-2008 KU basketball season this evening in front of thousands of Jayhawk fans eagerly anticipating the 'Hawks to hit the hardwood.

Red team tops blue in 'Late Night' scrimmage

In another fun installment of 'Late Night in the Phog' hosted at Allen Fieldhouse, the red team topped the blue team during the scrimmage portion of the evening's events.

Late Night in the Phog wasn't all about hoops Friday night.

Gridiron great John Riggins made a cameo, jogging onto the court in his Kansas University letter jacket, blue jeans and boots to a standing ovation.

Riggins will become the 15th player to be added to the Ring of Honor at Memorial Stadium today during KU's football game with Baylor.

The former Jayhawk and NFL standout told the Allen Fieldhouse fans that he wished his parents were alive so they could have seen the ovation he received Friday night.

"I know that they would be extremely proud because it meant so much for their boys to go to the University of Kansas," Riggins said.

The fun-loving Riggins joked that most people don't know who he is anymore.

According to Riggins, if you've heard of him, "You're either collecting social security or you're dead."

But the moment was somewhat serious for him as well. While he addressed the crowd, he was flanked by his daughters, Hannah and Coco, and he thanked the university and the fans for honoring him.

"I accept it graciously," he said, before getting down on his right knee. "I bow humbly before you."

Afterward, the 1992 NFL Hall of Fame inductee said it had been awhile - roughly 10 years - since he had been in Lawrence for a basketball game and even longer since he had been to a football contest.

Riggins said he came to watch a game in 1980 and did so not from the confines of Memorial, but from the hill outside the stadium.

The 1983 Super Bowl MVP was happy for the reception the Jayhawk faithful gave him.

"I'm a sucker for applause anyway," he said. "But it was strange in a way. It really hit something emotional in me - not that I didn't think it would be there - but I was a little bit surprised. ... You've got to be pretty hard-hearted not to be moved by it."

Riggins left Kansas in 1970, and his name finally will join the likes of other former stars today. He doesn't think it's long overdue, though.

"It's been difficult to get back here, particularly now that I've started another career in radio," he said. Riggins is host of a talk show from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Lew Perkins arranged to have him flown out here.

"I never looked at it like, 'Damn, why ain't I in there.' There were so many people to pick from, and I think there were so many people that were just as deserving as I am," Riggins said.

Today will be the first time Riggins has watched the Jayhawks football team this season.

"Now that the Jayhawks are 5-0, I've become a fan. I'm one of those guys that hate to invest too much in it because I'm afraid they'll let me down," he said with a laugh. "I haven't got to see them play, but, look, they can't be doing too bad. They went to Manhattan and beat the Wildcats. I mean, back in my day, that was the only win you really needed, or a Missouri win, and everybody considered it a pretty successful year."

Comments

jaybate 14 years, 3 months ago

For all the young 21st Century Jayhawks, John Riggins is the real deal--a fabulously gifted man with the soul of a character that Mark Twain might have created had he written in the 20th Century.

John Riggins had the talent, character and adventurous independence of spirit to live life far more on his own terms than any one else I have ever witnessed. He has done it his own way for longer than almost anyone I have ever watched.

John Riggins may be more important than just about any other Jayhawk sports hero, because he reminds us that it is at least possble to live most of one's life on one's own terms.

John Riggins broke every mold society tried to put him in simply because he was so strong and so talented and so full of the life force that no mold could hold him. He was not a revolutionary. He was a not counter culture type. He was totally unique. All he had to do was be himself (and oh how he was himself). When he was just being John, phoney conventions came and mindless expectations came crashing down in his wake without him even trying.

In highschool, the legend goes, he ran the 100 yard dash extremely fast for his time (9.9 secs. if memory serves), did it in the body of a highschool lineman playing fullback and played an instrument in the marching band at half time; that's the youthful legend, anyway.

And the doubters were skeptical and said he was too much of a hick to continue to be this larger than life character at college.

speedy 14 years, 3 months ago

riggens was voted by nfl films crew as the number 2 back of all times. second only to jim brown. everyone seemed suprised when john broke through the line and outran the miami defense for a score in the super bowl while playing for wash. he was big and fast not just a disel. wheres junior riggens?

jaybate 14 years, 3 months ago

And then he comes home to Kansas in the off season, still dressed like a cross between TBickle and a super athlete, which is where my brief encounter occurs with him out on the grass infront of Allen Field House. It was one of those inconsequential gatherings, probably some kind of pre concert party, or something, that was so soaked with 3.2 beer and so riddled with local pot so weak you could have a two pack a day habit and not even get hungry for a potato chip, that I can't recall exactly why I was even there. I just was. And I was with three girls, my girl friend and her two friends, when Travis Bickle on Steroids walks up like he's got an L.C. Smith cocked inside his duster, and pulls me aside. I'm ready for a change of underwear even before he speaks. "Say, pal, what's the name of that beautiful gal over there. The one that's friends with your girl." I was never sooooooo glad a guy didn't want to meet my girl. "What a babe, she is!" he said, slipping his ridiculously menacing looking shades down a bit to reveal the twinkle in a man's eye, and devilish smile, that every other man recognizes in a New York minute, or a Kansas second, as a sign that we are all in this tail-chasing business together, man. Can ya lend a fellow searcher a hand? Here was this legend in my mind, this real life super man on a football field, this guy who thumbed his nose at the NFL and swaggered bigger than Joe Namath himself, standing beside me saying, man, have I got it bad for that chick.

So I said, "Riggo (you can't help but call him that and he didn't hit me so I guess he didn't mind it), I will move heaven and earth for you, but she's a theater chick, ya know?" He nodded immediately. Theater chicks were, at the time, just too cool to hang with people outiside of dream land. And I knew she wouldn't know John Riggins from shinola, Harold Pinter, maybe, but not John Riggins. So I went over and put the sell on her. He's a very cool guy. Played here a KU a few years back. Plays for the Jets now. Great guy. Greeeeeat guy. The theater chick, who was as far into her inner world as those types get, just took one look at the guy in the Mohawk and the Bickle glasses and said, "I don't think so." It was at that moment that I knew the theater chick was never going to become the next great actress of her age. She didn't have the huevos to want to confront and experience a 100% authentic original. The girl who used to put so many guys down for being afraid to "be themselves" was afraid to be around someone who was absolutely fearless about being himself.

jaybate 14 years, 3 months ago

Riggins walks up to the table. He shoulders me aside and grabs the end of the table where you break from. He lifts the table up and rolls the balls into the pockets at the far end of the table. He lowered the table and then dropped it from an inch or so off the floor so it made this enormous thunk, which brought at least part of the bar to silence. "There, he won. You lost. Now get outta here. I'm playin' next." And they did. It didn't hurt that Riggo had some buddies with him, but I suspect they would have left even if he'd been alone.

To this day, I don't know for sure, if he remembered who I was or not. He seemed a bit tipsy that second meeting, as his legend suggests he often was in those years. He didn't even finish our game. He just turned and smiled at me and then left.

Fortunately for John Riggins, he got out of New York and made it to Washington, where he finally got a chance to show that he was probably the second best fullback to ever play the game--Jim Brown still being the best, and I'm sure Riggins would acknowledge that, though he'd probably add something like, "It might have been closer, though, if I hadn't wasted so much time in New York."

John Riggins and Jim Brown are both heroes of mine. Both have serious flaws, but that is how real heroes are. But what I like and admire about John Riggins much more than Jim Brown is this: John Riggins finally found a way to lively happily with what he was after football. I don't think Jim Brown ever really could overcome the terrible wounds of being a great, mold-breaking man with dark skin in a society that tried to hold down men of color. I think John Riggins would be the first to admit that he was fortunate not to have had that cross to bear. But I also think John Riggins has borne the cross of greatness and felt frustrations and limits it exposes in the world. John Riggins reveals that you don't have to be an anonymous man in a grey flannel suit from the past, or a disingenuous, neutered suck-up from today to survive in life. John Riggins proves you can live large. You can live life on your own terms to a much greater extent than the government, the corporations and the institutions that try to stifle, repress and homogenize us all say you can.

I've met a lot of highly successful persons. I've met several famous ones. But I've met only a handful of great ones. Even though I only met him for a few seconds a few times along time ago, I could feel it.

I'm so happy he's found a second career in radio. I'm so happy he's still speaking his mind. I'm so happy he's still got the autenticity and audaciousness to jog out on to the floor and kneel down and make a joke about it all...for in a joke, there is always a grain of truth.

A great man just kneeled down in Lawrence and said thank you.

That doesn't happen every day.

jaybate 14 years, 3 months ago

So he comes to KU and helps turn a program around and runs the ball right down the throat of a great Nebraska black shirt defense in Lincoln and creates the perfect complement to Bobby Douglas and makes that KU Orange Bowl team one of the most magical and exciting college football teams of all times, even though it was undone in the Orange Bowl.

So they say, yeah, but he won't be able to bulldoze his way through the pros and he won't be able to out run the pros the way he did those college kids. And all that carousing he did in college and that wild-assed character of his will get him bounced out of the league.

And then he's drafted by the NY Jets and they say Namath and Ewbank and NYC will cut that country bumpkin down to size. And the wise guy reporters in the Big Apple say looking down their noses, "Kansas John, what's the toughest thing about going from college football to professional football?" and the kid from Centralia doesn't miss a beat: "Learning to drive in New York." Pow! Suddenly, the sports writers know they've got a hot one. Even Namath never said anything as "come and get me" to his fellow professionals as THAT! And of course the Jet's coach just wanted Riggins to block for the QB and run between the tackles a few times and be your usual thick-necked plodder of a fullback. Button your chin strap, block the blitz and shutup!! And the team that had won a Super Bowl recently grew mediocre and Riggo is standing around saying give me the freaking ball and I'll carry this team on my back.

But nooooooooooo! The coach can't change the way he thinks, can't let go of the past, can't re-scheme the team to fit the fullback with the Centralia twang and the cowboy boots. The coach wants to take a fabulous, unprecendented football player and treat him like every other yokel who ever got his nose smashed by some nose tackle named Two-Ton Roosevelt. So what does Riggo do? Does he just knuckle down and take his NFL medicine like a humble country boy? Uh, no. He goes Travis Bickle all over the heads of the coach and the owner. He shaves his head into a Mohawk and dawns some sun lamp shades and more or less says this is the stupidest thing I've ever heard of.

jaybate 14 years, 3 months ago

I went back to Riggo and broke the news. "Thanks for trying. " And then a friend of his that I did not recognize called and off they walked. From that moment on, I was the biggest fan not only of John Riggins the football player, but John Riggins the man. Maybe he wasn't always like that. Maybe he got too pushy other times, just like all men with a pair have, when they are trying to figure out the mating game. But what I saw as a giant of a man who, despite the outlandish public image, and while dressed as outrageously as one could dress back at that time, was a gentleman.

So fast forward the camcorder from memoryville and find me next a few weeks later on one of the cold Lawrence nights shooting pool in the Harbor on Mass Street (I wonder if its still there) and I'm shooting way better than I ever shot before or since. In fact, I'm holding the table for an hour or so, by far the longest I ever held it. And of course I could not stand such succes without pounding too many beers, which lead to a loosening of my tongue, which lead to some genuinely tough guys deciding they wanted to beat the college punk. Once in a great while the Harbor had some tough guys come in to mingle with the 99% college crowd; this was one of those nights. Like an idiot I agree to play one of these guys and like an idiot I make him look sick at eight ball. Dumb. Veeeerry dumb. He insists I play him again. And again. And again. I keep beating him and he keeps getting more angry. He won't let me quit and he won't let anyone else play. His buddies are standing around holding cues like they are going to swing them at my teeth eventually. Finally, I'm so scared, I stop and say, "Look, I want to quit, I want to go home now." How's that for manly? His buddies move to block my exit. The guy puts in some more quarters, grabs the balls, tables and racks them, and says, "Play!" At which point, through the crowd comes this enormous guy with a mohawk and dark glasses. Its John Riggins.

Chicago_JHawk 14 years, 3 months ago

That was a great story jay! Are you referring to Harbour Lights on Mass? If so, then it is indeed still there. One of my favorites from my Lawrence days!

beebe1 14 years, 3 months ago

Great! jaybate. If you don't, you should write for a living! Thanks for all the great stuff. (and if 'authoring' doesn't pay enough, do it part time!)

bmcmich1 14 years, 3 months ago

Oops! And of course, as of today John Riggins too!

seattlehawk_78 14 years, 3 months ago

Better late than never but I'm embarassed that it has taken the university so long to include him in the Ring of Honor.

jaybate 14 years, 3 months ago

Thanks back to those who took the time to say thanks for my recollection about John Riggins. Could anyone post a link to a list of what athletes comprise the KU Ring of Honor presently? I would appreciate it.

DSommersby 14 years, 3 months ago

Fantastic stuff Jaybate! I was lucky enough to get an autograph today from Riggo and the guy really had that "larger than life" persona or vibe. Really a cool guy and looked like he could still play.

bmcmich1 14 years, 3 months ago

Jaybate:

Current members of the KU football Ring of Honor include Sayers, Nolan Cromwell, John Hadl, Curtis McClinton, Bobby Douglass, David Jaynes, George Mrkonic, Otto Schnellbacher, John Zook, Ray Evans, Bruce Kallmeyer, Gil Reich and Oliver Spencer.

A pretty impressive list of football players; a damn impressive list of human beings.

Rock Chalk, enjoyed your story. Saw Riggo and said hello to him today at his post-game get together at the Wagon Wheel. It's safe to say that the John Riggins you knew then hasn't skipped a beat.

bmcmich1 14 years, 3 months ago

Sorry, I've been having a sotally tober postgame time on Mass. Street tonight: add Willie Pless to that list of former gridiron greats in the ring of honor! Can't believe I almost forgot him!

shelleysue 14 years, 3 months ago

Did anyone hear the pre-game interview with Riggins? I loved Riggins as a Jet - don't remember him as a Jayhawk. But I was very disappointed in the interview. He said he hadn't been back to Memorial Stadium since he played because -you just move on to other things you know. No apologies about it - just didn't have time for his alma mater. He sounded very arrogant too. All of us listening had the same impression. What was up with that? I was very surprised by it all.

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