The History of Redskins Running Backs
July 8, 2013 in Washington Redskins
By Guest Writer Adam Lockley:
In their history the Washington Redskins quarterbacks have had the luxury of talented men in the backfield. Tailbacks have been a big reason why the Redskins have won the championships they have won. Their history of talented running backs includes an NFL MVP as well.
It is as if the main focus of the management is to balance out the offense as much as possible, because the Redskins have had talented quarterbacks in their history but did not have to tire out their arms because they had a balanced attack. I see offenses in the NFL sometimes that are just one dimensional and because they are one dimensional someone eventually finds the formula to slow them down. So I will tell you about the Redskins’ talented running backs over the last four decades.
The first talented man the Redskins had in the backfield was Larry Brown. The amazing thing about Larry Brown was his unlikely path to the NFL. He was not a highly recruited running back out of high school.
Prior to attending a four year school he was forced to settle for Dodge City Community College. In spite of his start at community college he never gave up on his dream to be a professional football player. He would eventually play his college ball at KansasState, after two years at Kansas State he would be drafted in the 8th round of the 1969 NFL draft by the Redskins.
He would make an immediate name for himself as he would be selected to the 1970 NFL Pro Bowl. It would take him just three seasons to go from star to super-star as he would win the NFL MVP award in just his fourth season. It is amazing how he went from community college to the best running back in the NFL in just six years.
He would retire from the game at 29 years old with 5,875 rushing yards, those are pretty good numbers for just seven years of play. He was also voted the 70 greatest Redskins; he is one of those guys who made an impact in a short amount of time.
As soon as Larry Brown decided to call it a career the Redskins wasted no time in getting another talented running back; a man by the name of John Riggins who had four productive seasons with the New York Jets. In spite of his great numbers in New York, he would only be used when they were at the goal line.
It would take a couple of years for him to make an impact on the Redskins because in 1977 he would miss the entire season with a knee injury. In 1978 and 1979 the Redskins would finally use Riggins in the way he should have been used in 1976; as a fulltime starter at the running back position.
He would rush for at least 1,000 yards in those two seasons, including a playoff game for the ages against the Dallas Cowboys where he rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns. In spite of his great performance the Redskins would fall short against the Cowboys. In 1980 he would sit out the entire season because he left training camp due to a contract dispute. When a player leaves training camp it is a violation that makes them ineligible to play once the regular season begins.
Riggings would return in 1981 where he would have another productive season with 13 rushing touchdown. The following season would be shortened to just nine games, but Riggins would do his best work in the postseason. In the playoffs he rushed for 444 yards, and set a then Super Bowl record of 166 rushing yards. He would seal the game on 4th and 1 where the Redskins would go to ‘’The Diesel.’’ He would get the first down and a lot more yards for the touchdown; this is a play that is regarded as one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history. If you watch the greatest Super Bowl moments there is a 100% chance that they will show this play.
Whoever thought that 1982 was the high-point for Riggins was sadly mistaken; in 1983 he rushed for more than 1,300 yards and had a then record of 24 touchdowns on the ground. For his career he had better than 11,000 yards and rushed for more than 100 touchdowns. He would be elected into the pro-football hall of fame seven years following retirement. He is definitely the greatest Redskins’ running back.
Following the retirement of John Riggins it would take a couple decades for the Redskins to have another productive running back. I would talk about Brian Mitchell in the 1990s but he did his best work on special teams. The next good running back the Redskins had was Clinton Portis. Portis came to the Redskins after two seasons with the Denver Broncos.
He was a beast of a running back in Denver as he rushed for 1,500 yards twice. He would pick up right where he left off as he rushed for more than 1,300 yards in 2004 and 2005. If not for injuries and concussions he would have been a member of the 10,000 yards club and possibly the Pro-Football Hall of Fame. In seven seasons with the Redskins he rushed for at least 1,000 yards four times, he is definitely one of the greatest Redskins ever. He only had 9,000 plus yards but we have to remember he played nine seasons as well. So in spite all of his ailments he still managed to average 1,000 rushing yards for his career.
It only took two seasons for the Redskins to get another talented running back, and it is just the beginning for him. The Redskins found immediate talent in running back Alfred Morris. In just his first season he broke Clinton Portis’ single season rushing record of 1,516 yards. He rushed for more than 1,600 yards and who knows what’s next for this young talent.
He is a big reason why the Redskins are a legitimate threat in the NFC East for the first time in years. Due to his great ability and the versatility of RGIII defensive coordinators cannot figure out what the Redskins are going to do or who has the ball. I think the future of the Redskins is really bright. I will end with the old cliché that they just have to stay healthy.