From 1971 to 1975, he played for the Jets, and if you don't mind, aside from the handlebar snapshot above, John Riggins will here remain a Jet. Drafted out of Kansas, having broken all of Gale Sayers' records, John Riggins was seen as the kind of player who might be able to replace Matt Snell. He did that and more. If anything, he possessed an eccentric streak that was decidedly less cosmopolitan than Namath's. It was a bravado born of the prairie, an odd, middle American anarchism that represented nothing in particular - no politics to speak of (other than posing with a gun in a 1980's magazine ad for the NRA or needling Sandra Day O'Connor), no commercial products - nothing other than a zest for shocking and appalling ordinary people.
|Sandy afro, mustache|
But I have to clarify something that I realize now. I mistook my first epiphany of hero worship to be his performance in the 1975 home game against New England. It wasn't. It was the late season away game at Foxboro. I had already watched him run off-tackle, but until late in the season, there was still only one Jet hero worth all the attention, and he wore #12. Everyone else remained a supporting cast member. I see myself clearly sitting on the sofa with Mom and Dad watching the cold game at Foxboro on NBC. I see John Riggins scoring not just once, but twice. The first was a 37 yard run for a touchdown, while the second was a 6 yard touchdown I see being scored in my mind's eye by Riggins, carrying two or three defenders across the line all by himself. That last one was the clincher, not just for the Jets, who would hold onto a 30-28 win, but for me, for my absolute devotion.
The Jets had lost eight games in a row up until that point, two of which I had seen at Shea with Dad. I was no less a fan than when I started out at the beginning of the year, but I had also become aware of the fact that being a Jets fan would demand a great deal of my young, developing soul. This was not a passing thing. This was a life's demanding and spiritless work. Today I think I am able to greet my unreasonabe, irrationally reluctant 16 year-old students each morning because I have been rooting for a losing cause for so long. I'm not sure what it's doing for my circulatory system, but being a Jets fan from a very early age has taught me a patience at the molecular level, albeit with teeth and fists clenched. Alright, the spirit says, here we go again. You know the drill.
So when I watched John Riggins help the Jets to win over the Patriots late in the 1975 season, I felt like I was watching a man single-handedly pull the Jets into the end zone. For at least one more game, and for the last time that season, the Jets would win. By virtue of his sheer will, Riggins would see to it. He was the man. And in my very immature sense of personal mythology that he was also now The Man. I had found my own football hero, perhaps in much the same way that Dad had once found Namath. John Riggins had done it all himself.
The only trouble is that he had also made himself that much more appealing to the free agent market. And having been instructed in the importance of sharing and pitching in at public school, how could a child possibly be expected to understand the real principles of Ayn Rand's self-interest on which his society rested? Well, he would find out.
To be continued...