4th and 1: My Redskins fandom and experiences with John Riggins

Hello Redskins fans and readers of Riggo’s Rag! Please allow me to introduce myself to you. My name is Daniel Kelly and having a chance to write for this online publication is among the greatest honors of my life.

The reason? Well, actually there are a couple reasons. To start, No. 44 John Riggins is my favorite football player of all time. The other reason: I started my NFL career in the same exact place he did, which was with the NY Jets. To write for anything associated with his great name is indeed a huge honor for me.

I’ll never forget my first mini-camp with the NY Jets after being hired to work in the pro scouting department in 1998. I was standing on the sidelines trying to learn who was who and all the jersey numbers and suddenly Bill Parcells turns around and says, “Hey, Riggins, looks like we got ourselves a team this year?” “Riggins,” I thought to myself, as in John Riggins, like my favorite player of all time, John Riggins!? I turned around quickly and looked and sure enough, there he was! He was now covering the Jets as a member of the media!

Now, let me say this: Getting autographs was not something really favorably looked at to begin with for anyone on our staff and especially not for a guy who just started working on the team. However, I was no more going to be denied this opportunity than Big John himself was on 4th and 1 in that Super Bowl. You see, I had been trying to get his autograph since I was a kid growing up in Minnesota. I had been told he doesn’t even sign for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had been told he didn’t like to sign things because he didn’t want people to sell his autograph.

I looked around to see if my boss or anyone else was watching me and called an audible of my own. I made a beeline into the Jets headquarters and went straight to our PR Department and asked if they happened to have any of those white three-quarter panel NFL footballs for autographs? Sure enough, they did. The PR Director asked me how many I needed. I said, “One for me and one for my brother Monroe please.”

The only other person carrying a football in his hand was Curtis Martin, the Jets star running back during practice, and I was carrying two. Actually, I was trying to hide two! I was still trying to be as unnoticed as possible as I made my way up to the legend himself. “Hello John, I’m Daniel Kelly, I’m in scouting with the team and I was hoping you might sign these for me?” He looked at me and carefully eyeballed my team credentials I was wearing around my neck. I said, “I know, I know… you normally don’t sign autographs… but it would mean so much to me. You’re my favorite player of all time, 4th and 1, 70 Chip, off the left side dragging Don McNeal behind you… ”

He interrupted me and said, “Okay, give me those footballs. What do you want yours to say?” I handed him my black Sharpie pen and said, “Whatever you want to write John would be awesome!” He handed me back one of the footballs and I looked at it.

“To Dan Best of Luck in the NFL John Riggins.”

Ever since I was eight years old on that unforgettable day against the Miami Dolphins back in Super Bowl XVII, that run on 4th down made a forever imprint on my heart, my mind and my imagination. I was only eight years old back then. I was wearing blue pajamas with feet in them and a little red tee-shirt over the top of my pajamas. It was screen printed with a yellow “44” on the front and on the back with the name “RIGGINS” in big yellow letters. This is way back in the day, way before they sold kids’ jerseys on NFL.com. Heck, it was way before the Internet itself. It was a little tee shirt my Grandma had specially made for me.

To this day, I have never again seen the look of pure and raw determination etched on anyone’s face the way I have it imprinted in my mind and in my soul. I’ve often said, it was like that face of his on that immortal 43-yard touchdown run could have been etched into Mount Rushmore. Ever since that day, I have lived my life much like John Riggins ran the ball for the Washington Redskins. I always push the proverbial envelope as hard as I possibly can. I push it as hard as he ran the ball. I write in the same way. That’s how I wrote my book, Whatever it Takes, which is one of, if not the most controversial book in all of professional sports.

I haven’t had a chance to wear my hair in a Mohawk to the White House like he did. In fact, I don’t have any hair, but I do have a tattoo of Aaron Hernandez’s autograph on my hand. You’ll probably discover fairly quickly, my articles will be very different than anything you will find online as well. They will be different, perhaps even radically different than anyone who covers the greatest team in the National Football League, the Washington Redskins. I’ve been told by my NFL mentor Lionel Vital, a man who was drafted by the legendary Bobby Beathard and a man himself who has four rings, “There’s only one Dan Kelly.” I’m as different as different comes and I’ve always believed and seen, different wins.

In fact, doing something different is what got me into the NFL to begin with. I self-published a 350-page NFL Draft Guide and sent out three copies to each team in the league overnight mail as my resume. No guarantees. I put every penny I had into the project. I went for it and it was enough to get me into a chair staring into the eyes of Bill Belichick, and that’s where I convinced him to hire me. When the Jets hired me, I only had one year of high school playing experience, I failed out of a small community college and I was working as a loan officer at a bank at the time.

I’m not much for punting. In fact, when I run a team someday (hint hint), I will not have a punter on my roster. That’s how much of an impact that immortal play and that day had on me. I’ve always been the type that pushes all my chips up on the table for the things I believe in the most without hesitation and without blinking. I’ve literally gone for broke more times than I can count, but I always find my way back to the table.

I’ll never forget it. It was a play that forged much of my life’s philosophy. There was Redskins coach Joe Gibbs standing across the field from the legendary Don Shula. It was a classic and epic scene. It was like watching a modern day David versus Goliath for all the marbles. This was it. The Vince Lombardi Trophy was on the line.

Most any other coach would have punted and tried to play the field position game. That would have been the safe bet. Coach Gibbs was only a sort-of-unknown second-year coach at the time, and had he gone for it on 4th down and not made it, we might hardly know his name to this day. Who knows, he may have even been fired if Miami had stopped him. As my Dad would say, “No guts, no glory.” The scoreboard read: Dolphins 17 – Redskins13. It was the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl. The clock was winding down. It was decision time. It was white-knuckle time. The hearts of our Nation’s Capital in their throats.

I’ll never forget the immortal words of legendary Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel on NFL Films recalling that play. He said something like, “We liked our chances with John Riggins against any safety in the league.”

Next: Thirty greatest Redskins players of all time

With the eyes of the world on Pasadena, California that Super Bowl Sunday, Coach Gibbs dug deep into his faith, and the words “70 Chip” left his mouth. To write or live any other way would completely discredit the man, the myth, and the legend. 44, my hero.

70 Chip.

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