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Archive for Saturday, June 20, 1992

RIGGINS SURFACES AS ACTOR IN D.C. THEATER

June 20, 1992

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You've heard countless stories about how great athletes get sick before big games or turn doggone near catatonic at showdown-time. Basketball whiz Michael Jordan says he has severe anxiety attacks.

The old Boston Celtics said they never felt Bill Russell was ready until he rushed into the other room and hurled (make that ``barfed'' for the older crowd).

One guy you'd never expect to break out with the flop sweats before a cruncher would be free-wheeling John Riggins, right? Wrong.

Now, he's doing it again, but for reasons other than busting through an opposing football line, thrusting a foot into somebody's face and hollering ``Lie there and bleed!'' as he cruises goalward. He's been out of football for seven years.

Not long ago, Riggo of Kansas and pro ball fame, also some infamy, indicated he'd like to try acting. It was something he'd always thought about, and figured he might be able to handle a la ex-athletes Ed Marinaro, Burt Reynolds, Don Meredith and Mike Warren.

Thanks to Barb Lauter, a Lawrence native who's vice president, communications, American Society of Internal Medicine, in Washington, we have an update on Riggo the thespian. A diehard Jayhawk, Barb keeps me attuned to the colorful adventures of our budding Shakespearean from Centralia.

RIGGINS OPENED recently at the D.C. area's Olney Theatre with a key role in ``Illegal Motion,'' appropriately enough a play about the seamy side of college football. He plays a coach, Bud Blackwell. It's no T. Craig Nelson role like that on television's ``Coach,'' but John has comedic lines which one reviewer says he handles well.

According to the Washington Post's Lois Romano, the wife of the playwright read in the New York Times that Riggins was interested in acting, and had her husband call John's agent.

``Funny thing,'' says Riggins, an outgoing guy who seldom has lacked for confidence. ``I thought the part was mine for the asking, but I had to read for it.''

Don't sell this guy short as an actor. He's bright, imaginative, funny and well-read despite his efforts to palm himself off as a blue-collar farm kid still awed by indoor plumbing.

JOHN SAYS he once entertained notions of acting, but that wasn't considered much of an option where he grew up.

``Everything was geared toward athletics,'' he told Romano. ``If you failed at that, you became a farmer, like everyone else ... I don't think drama would have gone over well with my dad. But I always considered myself an entertainer even when I was playing football, so that's not new. The cast has accepted me, even though I'm a rank rookie.''

Riggo, onetime social adviser to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner (``Loosen up, Sandy Baby), adds, ``Preparing to go before an audience is not too different from the pregame jitters. I used to think, `What the hell am I doing here?' a fear-of-failure type thing. It was such a miserable feeling. Then when I would get out there and get knocked down, it was all clear. Just hope nobody decides to knock me down on the stage.''

``It's funny,'' Riggins told Tony Kornheiser of the Washington Post as he sweated out his stage debut. ``That feeling I hated so much is the one I miss most because it's the one that makes me feel alive.''

IN THE PLAY, Riggins is the coach of the Midwestern University Chickenhawks and has been told by the big cigars to win a national title or he's history. That means getting great players by hook or crook. He doesn't want to cheat but does. Says Post reviewer Joe Brown, of Riggo, `` ... he's not likely to win any acting awards yet, but he's at least as good as (Joe) Namath, O.J. (Simpson) and the Boz (Brian Bosworth). ... he's certainly the most enjoyable player in this vehicle ... remembers his lines, moves well and scores all the laughs. He could easily be cast in a TV series tomorrow if `Coach' weren't already on the air. ...

``Looking trim and fit, Riggins is a likeable, dignified presence as bug, rumbling good-naturedly and unflappably through each scene (unfortunately, several scenes call for him to appear at least a little flapped). He gets most of the good lines and delivers them in a nicely uncerplayed way, throws a few stage punches and endearingly takes his stage bows like a schoolboy in a class play. Riggins's only really unconvincing moments are when he is called on to show some affection toward Judy (his stage wife). ... ''

Reviewer Brown was not as pleased with other aspects of ``Illegal Motion,'' especially the script. ``I said I liked Riggins up front.'' Brown's not as enamored with ``the playwright who wrote this foul play.''

Look for more Riggins acting gigs. If he can get his tendencies toward social excess under control, I'm betting on a fine future in the entertainment field.

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