WASHINGTON — Washington-- Gerald Riggs always wanted to come to Washington to play in games like this one.
When the Redskins play the New York Giants, as they do at RFK Stadium today, Giants coach Bill Parcells calls it "some of the best the NFL has to offer. . . . It's what the NFL is supposed to be all about."
It's two old division rivals in a high-stakes game in a noisy stadium on national television.
By contrast, when Riggs played for the Atlanta Falcons for seven seasons, he toiled in obscurity. Because he didn't play in many high-profile, emotional games like this one, not many people noticed that he was second only in the National Football League to Eric Dickerson in rushing yards from 1984 to '88.
The Redskins went to three Super Bowls while Riggs was in Atlanta, but his team made just one playoff game, in the 1982 strike season, and lost it. He played on three teams that lost 12 games and another that lost 11.
Riggs said he'd like to get one of those "big [Super Bowl] rings" that so many of his teammates have, and the first step is games like this one.
"These are the ones that you want to play in, that you live to play in," Riggs said. "It's one of those games where it's all on the table."
Riggs had his first chance against the Giants a year ago, after he was traded to the Redskins and they opened the season against New York on a Monday night.
He then found out there's a downside to playing in games like this. The bad plays are remembered along with the good ones.
Riggs gained 111 yards, but the yardage was obscured by two costly fumbles that helped the Giants win, 27-24. The next week, he piled up 221 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles, but another costly fumble at the end helped the Eagles pull out a 42-37 victory.
Suddenly, Riggs was known as a fumbler. The fans forgot that he carried 397 times in 1985 -- the third-highest total in NFL history -- and didn't fumble once. They forgot he fumbled only 32 times while handling the ball 1,773 times (1,587 carries and 186 pass receptions) in Atlanta. That's one fumble every 55 times that he handled the ball.
Instead, they remembered those costly fumbles against the Giants and Eagles -- three fumbles in 53 carries.
Much of the rest of last season, Riggs was hampered by injuries, although he gained 91 yards in a later loss to the Giants. What could have been a memorable season for Riggs became one to forget. But he hasn't forgotten the fumbles.
"Those kind of stick in the back of my mind," he said. "I don't want to dwell on the fact of what happened last year. Everybody will say those plays made the difference in the games. It's not something easily forgotten, but that's over with."
By the end of last year, Riggs lost the starting job to Earnest Byner, and the Redskins were using a three-wide-receiver offense.
They started out with the same offense this year, but coach Joe Gibbs became worried about his running game after Byner and Riggs combined for just 15 carries (13 by Byner) in the third game, against the Dallas Cowboys.
In the Redskins' most recent game, two weeks ago against the Phoenix Cardinals, Gibbs scrapped the three-wide-receiver offense except on passing downs. He went back to his two-tight-end running formation. Byner got 56 yards on 16 carries, and Riggs showed he'd finally made it back by gaining 95 yards on 19 carries.
Riggs says he's now ready to do "what they expected me to do in the first place."
But he said he knows there are skeptics. He'll turn 30 next month. Two days ago, he came down with back spasms and missed Friday's practice, but he's supposed to be ready today.
"It seems like at this point in my career, some people may take me lightly," he said. "I'm always ready to go."
One of those people is Philadelphia coach Buddy Ryan. "One man [Ryan] said I've been around for a while and I'm as old as he Riggs said. He laughed, but he said he'd like to remind Ryan he has a lot of football left.
For a big running back, today's game can be ideal. The Redskins need to run and stay out of long third downs so the Giants defense can't tee off on young quarterback Stan Humphries. The Redskins want him to throw only after the Giants are forced to respect the run.
Meanwhile Parcells likes to take advantage of his strong defense by playing a conservative style. He likes to run the clock with veteran O.J. Anderson and young Lewis Tillman. Parcells is content to play a field-position game because he's got Sean Landeta's booming punts to put the other team in a hole.
It tends to be a game of hard-nose, in-your-face, old-fashioned football that Riggs can't wait to play.
"You just want to go out and play and get wild and crazy and let it all hang out and yip and yell and all that. The emotion is one of those things you can't explain unless you're out there," he said.
Riggs will be out there, and this time he wants to be on the winning side.