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On This Date in Sports January 30, 1983: Riding Riggins

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Washington Redskins beat the Miami Dolphins 27-17 in Super Bowl XVII at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The game featured the first kickoff return by a touchdown in Super Bowl history from Miami’s Fulton Walker. The Dolphins offense, however, stalled in the second half as the Redskins scored 17 unanswered points, with the biggest play coming on MVP John Riggins' 43-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to give Washington the lead.

The 1982 NFL season was not the greatest in the league’s history as a two-month strike gutted the season, leaving just nine games played as the league changed its playoff format to invite eight teams in each conference while throwing out divisional play. When it was all said and done, the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins were the last two teams standing in a rematch of Super Bowl VII, won by Miami 14-7.

The Dolphins, coached by Don Shula, posted a 7-2 record in the regular season, thanks to the Killer Bee Defense. On the way to Pasadena, the Dolphins beat the New England Patriots, 28-13, the San Diego Chargers, 34-13, and the New York Jets, 14-0. While the Washington Redskins coached by Joe Gibbs, posted a record of 8-1, the best overall record in the NFL, as kicker Mark Moseley was an unlikely NFL MVP. On the way to the Super Bowl, the Redskins beat the Detroit Lions 31-7, the Minnesota Vikings 21-7, and the rival Dallas Cowboys 31-17.

In the third Super Bowl to play at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, actress Leslie Easterbrook sang the National Anthem. The coin toss was done by NFL Hall of Famer Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch as referee Jerry Markbreit had trouble distinguishing heads from tails. The Dolphins won the toss and elected to receive. After neither team scored on their first possession, Miami got the game’s first score on the second possession as quarterback David Woodley connected by Jimmy Cefalo on a 76-yard touchdown play. Miami attempted a similar deep pass on their next possession, but this time Dexter Manley was able to hit Woodley and cause a fumble that gave Washington the ball and the Dolphins' 46-yard line. 

Early in the second quarter, the Redskins turned the fumble into points as Mark Moseley hit a 31-yard field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, history was made as Fulton Walker had a big return, going 47 yards to set the Dolphins up to answer right back. The Dolphins would drive all the way down to the Washington three but failed to get in the end zone, settling for a 20-yard field goal by Uwe von Schamann. The Redskins, with Joe Theismann leading the way, drove 80 yards in 11 plays to tie the game 10-10 on a four-yard pass to Alvin Garrett. With less than two minutes before halftime, Fulton Walker again had a big return, this time going 98 yards for the first kickoff return in Super Bowl history, also setting a record for the longest kick return in NFL postseason history.

After an undistinguished halftime show, the Dolphins held a 17-10 lead, looking for their third Lombardi Trophy. Midway through the third quarter, the Redskins shave the Dolphins' lead to 17-13 on a 20-yard field goal by Mark Moseley. Miami had two chances to break Washington’s back as A.J. Duhe picked off Joe Theismann near midfield. The Dolphins though failed to score as David Woodley gave the ball right back, attempting another deep pass, which was picked off Mark Murphy after a deflection from Vernon Dean. Starting a drive at their own five, disaster nearly struck the Redskins as Theismann had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage looking to grab the ball and march to the end zone was Kim Bokamper, but the Redskins quarterback alertly knocked the ball down before Bokamper could make a catch.  

The Redskins would take a new life and began marching down the field as the third quarter ended and the fourth quarter began. Looking for a big play, Theisman and John Riggins attempted a flea flicker, which did not fool anybody as Lyle Blackwood made an interception at the one-yard line. The field position change, though, was to the Redskins benefit as the Dolphins went three and out and the Redskins had the ball back at midfield. After three plays, the Redskins faced fourth down and one, with just over ten minutes left in the game. With the best offensive line in the NFL, a unit called the Hogs, and the power running of John Riggins, it was an easy decision to go for it. Riggins not only got the first down, but he also went the full 43 yards for a touchdown running over several defenders along the way. After the Dolphins failed to answer, the Redskins, against a tired defense, used 12 plays and 6:54 off the clock to seal the game, as Charlie Brown caught a six-yard pass from Joe Theismann to make the final score 27-17 in favor of the Redskins. John Riggins, who had run for 166 yards on 38 carries, was named Super Bowl MVP thanks to his big go-ahead touchdown run.