Archive for Monday, January 27, 1992

UNRETIRED DIGITS PART OF FOLKLORE AROUND RIGGINS

January 27, 1992

Advertisement

Now that John Riggins has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I wonder if the Kansas athletic department will retire his jersey number. Again.

Wouldn't you know that Riggins flake, free-spirit, folk hero or whatever you want to call him would be the only former KU athlete ever to have his jersey number retired and then unretired.

Riggins became a household name following his yeoman performance for the Washington Redskins in the 1983 Super Bowl. He carried the ball 38 times for 166 yards, including a decisive 43-yard TD gallop, that helped the 'Skins maul the Miami Dolphins, 27-17.

Riggins became a celebrity after that prime-time performance and the Kansas athletic department didn't waste any time jumping on his bandwagon.

SOON AFTER Riggins destroyed the Dolphins, Monte Johnson, then the Jayhawks' athletic director, announced that the No. 32 Riggins had worn during his playing career at Kansas would join John Hadl's No. 21 and Ray Evans' No. 42 on the permanently retired list.

Sure enough, no KU player wore No. 32 during the 1984 season and, while no official ceremony certified Riggins' enshrinement, it was generally accepted that Kansas had three retired football jerseys.

Then the 1985 season rolled around and hey, wait a minute why is a defensive back named Marvin Mattox wearing No. 32?

Oh, I was told in the fall of '85, you must have misunderstood. Kansas had retired Riggins' JERSEY, not his jersey NUMBER. Further, I was informed that Kansas had a departmental policy that stipulated only jerseys, not numbers, would be retired in the future.

Uh, huh. Four years later a Kansas freshman linebacker named Wes Swinford was wearing No. 48 one week and No. 58 the next following a halftime ceremony that officially retired Gale Sayers' jersey NUMBER.

OBVIOUSLY, THAT departmental policy de-mothballing Riggins' jersey number had been etched in jello.

Why Sayers, Hadl and Evans but not Riggins?

Well, it can't be coincidental that Riggins' supposedly retired No. 32 reappeared on the Jayhawks' football roster not too many months after separate incidents precipitated by Riggins' ongoing friendship with John Barleycorn.

The first and certainly most infamous occurred during a black-tie affair at the Washington Press Club when Riggins, feeling no pain, offered this bit of unsolicited advice to Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor: "Loosen up, baby."

So outwardly uncouth was Riggins' remark to the first woman to serve on the high court that it overshadowed something else he did that night which, in retrospect, wasn't all that bad.

Riggins slept through a George Bush he was vice president then speech. Of course, it wasn't all that good that while Bush was speaking Riggins was snoozing on the floor under the table.

Regardless, a couple of months later, Riggins was arrested while driving his pickup truck in a Washington, D.C., suburb and charged with public drunkeness.

THAT RUN-IN with the police must have been the last straw as far as the Kansas athletic department was concerned because No. 32 remains in use to this day. It was assigned to Chris Powell, a red-shirt freshman fullback, during the '91 season.

As far as I'm concerned it wasn't right to renege on Riggins, regardless of his peccadillos, but those jersey numbers aren't mine. They belong to Kansas. And Kansas is totally responsible for their content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.