When Gerald Riggs got the phone call last Friday informing him he was going to be the Falcons franchise's latest addition to the Ring of Honor, he thought someone was playing a joke on him. After all, how many people get phone calls from Arthur Blank, the team's owner and chairman?
After a quick few seconds, he realized it was no joke and Blank's voice really was on the other end, letting Riggs know he would join eight other former Falcons honored in the Georgia Dome. The personal touch by Blank made the moment even more special for Riggs.
"My initial thoughts were that it was truly an honor to be given a call by Mr. Blank to announce it," Riggs said. "Sometimes you don't realize how things like this come about or if it comes from somebody else in the organization, but to have the owner contact me was truly an honor."
Riggs was chosen by a local media committee for the honor this year. The induction ceremony will take place at halftime of the Monday Night Football game against the New York Jets on Oct. 7 at the Georgia Dome.
The phone call from Blank took Riggs back to another memorable phone call in his life, the day in 1982 when the Falcons selected him with the ninth pick overall in the first round of the NFL draft. Riggs spent seven years with the Falcons before finishing his career with three seasons with the Redskins. The fact that he's being honored by the team that drafted him is a great cap on his career.
"I'm proud to be a part of something that lets people recognize me for what I did. It may not be huge numbers, but to have that from the organization you were chosen by, it is indeed an honor, a privilege and a blessing."
During his seven years with Atlanta, he was a three-time Pro Bowler and his 6.631 yards rushing is a franchise record. He recorded 48 touchdowns and evidence for his tough running style can be found in his 4.1 yards per carry average during his career with the Falcons. That toughness helped him win a Super Bowl in Washington in 1991. During the season he became the only player in NFL history to rush for 11 touchdowns in fewer than 80 attempts. During the postseason that year, he tied an NFL record with six touchdowns.
"Gerald Riggs is without question one of the greatest players in the history of our franchise," Blank said. "He was one of the finest players of his time and left an indelible mark on this club as our all-time leading rusher."
He carried the ball in Atlanta's offense in much the same way and was part of an offense that during some lean years in the franchise's history still had the respect of the league. His place as the team's all-time leading rusher is reflective of that philosophy and what Riggs was able to accomplish in that offense.
"We worked and sweated. From the standpoint of our team offensively, we had some respect around the league. That means a lot. That means a lot to us as a team and me as a running back that we went out and played the way that we did. I was just part of it. I was part of something that was trying to be consistent and trying to grow."
Riggs believes his place in the Ring of Honor is representative of the hard-working teammates he took the field with. Though Riggs and the Falcons only made the playoffs once during his seven seasons, he loved playing with his teammates and for the city of Atlanta.
"I truly did enjoy playing with all the guys," he said. "It's a team honor. Even though I get recognized up there, I didn't do it by myself. I had a bunch of guys that I truly loved playing with offensively."