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Heard on the Hill: Riggo Reflects on ‘Sandy Baby’ Riposte

In the sports world, John Riggins may be best known for his 43-yard, go-ahead touchdown run in Super Bowl XVII to seal a Washington Redskins victory and earn himself the game’s MVP trophy. But on the Hill, Riggo is likely remembered for a single phrase: “Loosen up, Sandy baby.”

The NFL Hall of Famer uttered the infamous words 25 years ago this month at the National Press Club Foundation’s annual dinner. The recipient: Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

“This occasion changed the course of western civilization,” Riggins quipped in an interview with HOH. “I think what we’re talking about here is what I’ll be remembered for much longer than being an MVP.”

There’s been some confusion this past quarter-century about the specifics, so let’s clear the air. Here’s how it went down, according to the man himself: Riggins, surrounded by the Beltway crowd, said he felt a bit nervous and out of his league. So to “loosen up” himself, he had a few double scotches and chased that with several glasses of wine — all on an empty stomach. As he was chatting up then-Virginia Gov. Chuck Robb, Riggo noticed his tablemate O’Connor and her late husband, John, getting up to leave.

“It got to that point, when someone is trying to leave a party, we all say, ‘Oh come on, stay a little longer,’” he recalls. “That’s the spirit it was meant in.”

Riggins said he has the utmost respect for the glass-ceiling-shattering justice. He even considers her a friend. And there doesn’t seem to be any hard feelings on her end, he said. They met again a few years ago.

“I was already thinking that this is going to be on my tombstone, and that’s what she said to me,” he said. “We’re linked together for life, which is good for me, but not so good for her.”

Another misconception: That Riggo passed out during a speech by then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. While he readily admits sleeping through the speech, it wasn’t Bush that put him out, but rather the night’s master of ceremonies.

“It was Sam [Donaldson]. He was so boring. I couldn’t take it,” Riggins said. “I went down like a chunk when he was talking.”

Here’s hoping this year’s dinner, scheduled for Feb. 10, will provide even a fraction of that kind of drama.

Members of Congress: Just Like Us. House Minority Leader John Boehner is a busy man, maintaining a packed schedule as a top leader of the Republican Party. But it seems even he couldn’t get out of a trip to the dreaded dentist’s office last week.

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