- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 7, 2016


There was a time when John Riggins wasn’t the revered “Diesel” Washington Redskins icon, the great and powerful running back who became a symbol of the Joe Gibbs era of success.

He was once the talented but flaky running back with the Mohawk haircut who played his way out of New York, arrived in Washington and then sat out a full year because he felt he wasn’t getting paid enough.

There was a time when “I’m bored, I’m broke and I’m back,” wasn’t so funny.

Then came the 1982 postseason — three weeks in January 1983 — when the narrative changed for Riggins. He took the opportunity in three consecutive postseason games — all at home at RFK Stadium, the greatest three weeks in Washington sports history — to get people to pay attention to the football player, not the eccentric, colorful farm boy from Kansas who once painted his toenails before games.

That postseason changed forever the way football looked at Riggins.
DeSean Jackson may have that same opportunity.

The explosive wide receiver has always been known for his game-changing talent, but all of his baggage often gets in the way of marveling at Jackson as a football player. The on-field antics, the record label, the reality TV show, the mysterious home break-ins, the drama over his departure from the Philadelphia Eagles.

No one ever mentions Jackson among the greatest wide receivers in the game today. He is often referred to as a “unique” talent, like some sort of sideshow, a guy who can change a game with one play, but a great football player?

He had a career year in 2014, catching 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns, and was cut by the Eagles. He had an outstanding season during the regualr season — 56 catches for 1,169 yards, an average of 20.9 yards per catch — yet the Redskins seemed to have no interest in staying in business with Jackson beyond this year.

Now, of late, the narrative is changing, and it has happened over the last few weeks. Jackson has played well, catching 12 passes for 236 yards in three consecutive victories, but as Kirk Cousins has blossomed as a starting quarterback, so has his connection with a healthy Jackson. The wide receiver could be on the verge of making people notice his greatest as a football player who can be counted when his team needs him — and whose play could change his legacy moving forward.

We’re not that far removed from the Redskins‘ 19-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, when Jackson’s ill-fated punt return attempt deep in Redskins territory led to a fumble that cost Washington the game. After the game, Jackson stood up and took responsibility for his mistake.

“I’m very frustrated,” he told reporters then. “A lot rode on this game and we knew what was at stake. Personally, I’m frustrated. I take that one on my chin. As a veteran of this league, I know to protect the ball and it just got away from me.”

Three weeks later, when the door was opened for drama following another return to Philadelphia — where the newspapers called coach Chip Kelly’s release of Jackson his greatest mistake — Jackson backed off, keeping the attention on the game and his team.

“It’s just another game,” he said in the week leading up to the game. “I’m excited about it, highly anticipate it, but I’m not going to make it more than what it is. We’ve got a game to do, to go win. That’s really all that matters. Regardless of what team it is or the name on the jersey, we don’t really care about that. We’ve just got a game to go win, and it’s a must-win for us.”

Now, reports are the Redskins want to stay in business with Jackson beyond this year — and that Jackson, at the age of 29, who is signed for one more season at a hefty salary cap hit, may have found a home in Washington and a quarterback in Cousins. Those things can help him concentrate on seasons that could change his NFL story moving forward.

That could happen starting Sunday in the playoff game against the Green Bay Packers.

A wide receiver won’t have the same opportunities as a running back to take over a game, like Riggins did in January 1983, but if the Redskins have any realistic opportunity for a postseason run, it will have to include the Cousins to Jackson connection.

Sunday could be the beginning of Jackson’s second act — the great football player.

⦁ Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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