- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa. Stephen Davis faces one big hurdle in becoming the greatest running back in Washington Redskins history: the salary cap.

Davis is 2,502 yards short of the franchise mark of 7,472 set by Hall of Famer John Riggins and could catch him toward the end of next season if he's still around. And that's a big if. Davis' contract calls for him to make an unpayable $11.4million next season, an amount so large the team will be forced to do some serious renegotiating or cut him.

Riggins' mark has stood for 17 years and never has been seriously challenged until now. Davis says he is tired of hearing about his predecessor, that he wants the mark and to be known as the greatest Redskins runner ever.

"Riggins' [record has] been around for a long time," Davis said. "He was one of the greatest running backs, but now it's a new age and time to take that record. It means a lot to me. It's the team that drafted me and gave me an opportunity. Everybody believed in me. I know it's a prestigious record to have. If I break it, that will be great."

Surpassing Riggins' rushing numbers is one thing. Supplanting the colorful Riggins, perhaps the most beloved player in Redskins history, in the hearts and minds of fans is much tougher.

The partying escapades of "Riggo" are the stuff of endearing and enduring legend. His run over Dolphins cornerback Don McNeal to the end zone in Super Bowl XVII was one of the most electrifying and glorious moments in franchise history.

Davis shies from the spotlight that Riggins embraced. He never has been in trouble or given coaches any problems. He has never sported a mohawk or told a female Supreme Court justice to "loosen up, baby." Davis is a family man whose life revolves around his four children, a guy who still spends his offseason in his hometown of Blythewood, S.C.

"Stephen doesn't like to push himself to the front. It was frustrating [for him] to lead the NFC in rushing and not make the Pro Bowl last year," running backs coach Hue Jackson said. "To not be seen as one of the best when you have the numbers hurts you."

The numbers don't give a clear indication of whether Davis or Riggins was more effective.

Davis has surpassed Riggins' single-season best total of 1,347 yards rushing twice, including a team-record 1,432 last year. Davis was the first Redskin to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three straight years. Davis' 4.2 yards a carry is nearly a half yard more than Riggins' average.

However, Riggins scored 79 rushing touchdowns in his career to Davis' 38. Riggins was a Super Bowl MVP. Davis has reached the playoffs only once. Riggins' career total doesn't include the five years he spent with the New York Jets. Davis spent one year at fullback with the Redskins and didn't start in his first three seasons years in which Terry Allen broke Riggins' single-season mark.

Riggins ran behind the famed "Hogs" offensive line. Davis has played behind 14 different guards over the past six years. Only two of the offensive linemen clearing the way for Davis have reached the Pro Bowl, for one year each. Quarterback Joe Theismann was always there for Riggins. Davis has taken handoffs from nine different quarterbacks, none of whom started for more than two straight years.

"It's been very hard, but being a pro means being able to adjust," Davis said of the constant changes. "You have to have consistency. For the last five years we haven't had that. The only thing we've had is running backs and tackles. You get paid to do it, so you have to deal with it."

Davis has two standout tackles in Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels, though. The team often has managed to get good short-term play from its guards, and Davis has never poor-mouthed them even though he has been hit in the backfield with regularity.

"Those things never enter his mind," Jackson said. "He's about doing his job and helping his teammates."

Said Jansen: "Stephen knows we'll be there for him."

Riggins was among those recently named to the Redskins' 70th anniversary team of the greatest players in franchise history. Davis was ineligible because active players needed a minimum of 10 years with the team. Davis has six. Still, Davis seemed to be overlooked by the selection committee when it established its criteria.

"It didn't bother me because you have some guys on there that deserve it, like Terry Allen and Brian Mitchell," he said.

Both Davis and Riggins are leaders, though. Riggins considered himself a maverick and always would back teammates. Davis came out of a pile to challenge defensive tackle Donovan Arp recently for a hit on fullback Bryan Johnson that he considered a cheap shot.

"Donovan did something I didn't like and could have hurt somebody, and I took it on myself to end the situation," Davis said.

Davis' role in coach Steve Spurrier's offense has been debated. Spurrier prefers to throw, but he doesn't abandon runners. The "Fun 'N' Gun" should also prevent eight- and nine-man fronts from concentrating on Davis as they did last season. Increased possession time also should give Davis more carries.

"I don't think I'll be forgotten," Davis said. "Everybody knows in this league you have to be able to run the ball."

The Redskins drafted Ladell Betts in the second round as Davis' successor. While Davis is only 28 years old, he's already surpassed the average NFL career by two seasons and could exit next season if the team isn't able to rework his contract. Davis foresees playing several more years, saying his 1,176 carries haven't proved too taxing.

"I'm old in age but young in years because I didn't get an opportunity to start when I first came here," he said.

Davis knows few thought the 1996 fourth-rounder would challenge Riggins' mark. He just wasn't among them, even when he played fullback in 1998.

"Given the opportunity, yes," Davis said. "My main thing was just getting the opportunity."

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