By Brian Eller - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- On a crisp, January morning in 1983, John Riggins pulled into the Washington Redskins' facilities. He slid into his usual parking space; the one reserved for the tailback's mammoth truck, but didn't get out. Instead, Riggins began to think.
He had been in the league for 10 years and was still missing a Super Bowl title. Time was running out for "the Diesel."
As he sat and thought about what might be the final chance for him -- his team was just hours away from a wild card matchup against the Detroit Lions -- the hair on the back of his neck began to rise. Riggins headed into the Redskins' locker room. He set down his stuff, then marched into the hall, where offensive line coach Joe Bugel was standing.
"Buges," Riggins said, "give me the ball. I'm ready to go. Just don't ask any questions. I'm ready to go. I've waited a lifetime for this."
Later that day, Riggins backed his words. The running back rushed for 119 yards, helping the Hogs to a 31-6 win over the Lions. It was the beginning of one of the most amazing performances in post-season history.
Fueled by his desire to become an NFL champion, Riggins powered the Redskins to Super Bowl XVI, rushing for more than 400 yards and three touchdowns in three games. Then, on the biggest stage in sports, "the Diesel" showed just how much he had left in the tank, rushing for 166 yards, including a memorable, 43-yard touchdown run to claim his first Super Bowl championship, and Most Valuable Player honors along with it.
Standing before guests at the Apple Blossom Sports Breakfast on Saturday, more than 20 years after capturing a championship, Riggins re-told that story and reminded everyone that by taking responsibility for their roles and never giving themselves permission to fail, anything was possible.
His message to those in attendance was just part of an uplifting breakfast featuring some of the most decorated athletes in sports, including Olympic swimmer Mary Wayte Bradburne, former University of Maryland basketball star Greivis Vasquez, local football star Lang Campbell and Virginia Sports Hall of Fame inductee Roger Brown, each of whom shared tales of success and words of advice.
Bradburne kicked things off, sharing stories of her days as a high school swimmer. Her message to the group was to always have a plan for all aspects of your life. As she concluded her speech, Bradburne held up a blank index card, asking the guests to simply, "write down your plan, whatever it is, so you know where you're going and how to get there."
After warm-hearted remarks from Campbell and Brown, a man who certainly knows what it's like to have a plan and remember where he came from approached the podium.
As a guest at Apple Blossom last year, Vasquez was in the midst of one of the toughest decisions of his young life. He had just finished his junior year at the University of Maryland, and had the opportunity to declare himself eligible for the NBA Draft.
Risking injury and his chance to play in the NBA, however, Vasquez decided to come back to school for his senior season, a decision that helped him garner awards such as the Bob Cousy Award and Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and more importantly, finish his college education. It also led him back to the podium Saturday.
"When I came to this country six years ago I couldn't even speak English," Vasquez said. "And if you would've asked me six years ago if I was going to win the Bob Cousy award and ACC Player of the Year, All-American, I would've said I might because I work hard, but I wouldn't have been able to give you a straight answer, because at the time, I didn't know.
"Hard work definitely pays off and it's paying off right now. I think the young kids here in high school and who are going onto college, they should always be working hard, whether you're the hero or not. The most important thing is just working hard."
With the NBA Draft less than two months away, Vasquez said he's been training about three days a week, but plans to increase his training in a few weeks in preparation for the upcoming selection. This weekend, however, the point guard was using the festival as a means of escape from the world of basketball.
"[It's a nice change of pace,]" he said. "Because your body needs some rest and you need to keep your mind off of some of the things. That's why I'm so happy to be back here."
Fans were glad to see the former Terp, too, but despite several encouraging words from four decorated athletes, it was clear most of the audience was there to hear Riggins, and as the Hall of Famer stood up to deliver his speech, so too did the crowd, many dressed in burnt red 44 jerseys.
His introduction was wholesome yet didn't feel like a rehearsed speech. After almost every story or piece of advice the crowd broke out in laughter, like a group of kids listening to a great storyteller reading a funny book. Even after his speech, as Riggins headed outside to sign autographs, fans of all ages wanted their chance to meet him, some wanting no more than to simply stand next to him for a picture or to shake his hand.
Not many people get the chance to meet their personal heroes. But for many of the people at Saturday's Apple Blossom Sports Breakfast, that opportunity came to fruition. Kids and adults were given the chance to hear inspiring messages from five accomplished athletes, with the main message being, that with hard work, anything could be achieved.
"Don't ever give yourselves the option to fail," Riggins closed. "Always work hard at your dreams and goals."