11. John Riggins
John Riggins‘ time with the New York Jets is filled with plenty of firsts. More on that in just a bit. “Riggo” or “The Diesel,” as he would come to be known, was the team’s first-round pick (sixth overall), from the University of Kansas in 1971. At that time, he was a unicorn, both big and fast. In high school, Riggins twice won Kansas state championships in the 100-meter dash.
As a member of the Jayhawks, Riggins broke both Gayle Sayers single-season and career rushing yards records. By selecting him, the Jets were getting the whole package, he could run up the middle with power, or fly by opponents with speed, catch, and block. And the 6-2, 230-pound fullback produced for Gang Green. Here are some of his accomplishments with NYJ:
The first rookie to lead the Jets in both rushing and receiving – 1971.
The first Jets single-season 1,000-yard rusher – 1975.
He became the all-time Jets leading rusher in four seasons with 2,875 yards.
The first Jets player to leave as a complete free agent – 1976.
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That last one is strange. The NFL didn’t have free agency in the mid-70s. Up until Riggins did it, the league didn’t allow players to up and leave for another team when their contract expired, without hefty player or draft pick compensation. When he signed with Washington and the Jets got nothing in return, Gang Green Nation was livid.
Several years later Jets fans helplessly watched as Riggins (after sitting out all of 1980 in a contract dispute) put the Redskins on his back and led them to a Super Bowl XVII title. In the process, he broke the Super Bowl record for rushing yards with 166 yards. He literally ran all over the hated Miami Dolphins. Something he should have done more of with the New York Jets.
Join us next week when we count down New York Jets villains10-1.