The Redskins are marching toward their 2009 season opener Sept. 13 with the New York Giants in the Meadowlands, and the two most productive running backs in franchise history, John Riggins and Clinton Portis, are stoking the flames. Riggins, the Hall of Famer who led the Redskins to the 1983 Super Bowl title, called out Portis as "a headache" who "has the team over a barrel," referring to Portis' favorable contract status and its adverse impact on the team's salary cap.
Not one to shy from dishing back criticism, Portis offered that Riggins surely was a great Redskins running back, but it was "not hard to be a great running back when you've got that talent all around you," referring to the legendary "Hogs" offensive line anchored by Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby during Riggins' era.
The feuding only figures to get worse if the new season falls below Redskins fans' expectations. Many NFL sages are labeling the Skins as an 8-8 contender at best and long shot to make the playoffs competing from the rugged NFC East against the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys.
The backdrop for the Riggins-Portis row: Portis is on the cusp of going past Riggins as the franchise's all-time leading rusher. Riggins racked up 7,472 yards during his Skins career. Portis needs 1,370 yards, a solid season for a top running back, to knock Riggins from his perch. Both downplay the role of the record in the feud.
Riggins took Portis to task last Dec. 28 -- a season ending loss to San Francisco -- because Portis reportedly went to coach Jim Zorn and asked Zorn to game-plan to help him to finish the mediocre 2008 season with 1,500 yards; Portis was 13 yards short of that mark. Apparently incensed Portis would seek an individual accolade, Riggins branded Portis as a loser on his sports talk radio program.
Make no mistake, Portis thinks of himself with the best of them. But you can understand Portis' incredulity that Riggins is taking him on -- arguing that Riggins of all people "should know better than anybody what I go through as a running back" with nagging injuries and inconsistent O-line play.
Portis has a point. Riggins had his own issues back in the day. A great back coming out of Kansas to the New York Jets in 1971, Riggins morphed into one of the all-time greats with the Redskins. He may be a solid citizen today, but in his day, Riggins widely was known as, well, a flake.
Any Riggins complaints about Portis' contract status would fall short. Everyone knows owner Daniel Snyder has a reputation for overpaying his athletes, and Riggins conveniently is forgetting his own history when he targets Portis. It was none other than Riggins who sat out the 1980 NFL season over a contract dispute with the Skins, bolting from his team in the middle of training camp. It took a Joe Gibbs trip to Kansas to find the Mohawk-wearing, camouflage-outfitted, Bambi-hunting, beer guzzling Riggo and lure him back into the fold. Gibbs, by the way, was quoted as describing Riggins a "fruitcake" among other superlatives.
There is no denying the size of Portis ego -- or his gab. Such is not surprising with Portis coming from the "U." But give him some credit, too. Portis has been a solid pro -- despite lacking the success of a Riggins in the postseason. Portis showed great leadership and support for his teammates during the dark days in the Redskin locker room that followed the tragic death of safety Sean Taylor during the 2007 season.
So, Riggo, voice of reason, let it go. Take one for the team.
Photos: Portis, NFL.com, Riggins, johnriggins44.com