Description: The final chapter.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my words.
The Riggins Legacy
An article by J. Aaronson for Sports Illustrated
Saturday night marked the induction ceremony for the most recent honourees into the NFL hall of fame. I had the opportunity to sit down with one of this year's inductees, Tim Riggins. The former Dallas Cowboy has finally been added to the honor roll of America's greatest footballers. His football stats are impressive, starting with High School State Championships that led to College State championships and the all important Superbowl. The fullback is the proud owner of 3 superbowl rings and countless trophies. In fact, when he and his wife of 40 years Julie, invited me into their Dallas home I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of awards that filled a giant armoire in their study. It might come as surprise to the public that these prestigious awards are hidden away in a locked cupboard but as I sat down with the couple, walked the halls with the football legend and met with his family, I discovered that the Riggins family's most prized possessions are simply each other.
Although I must admit that I marvelled at the cupboard of football greatness, I found myself spending more time gazing at the family's photos that decorated every wall and surface proving to even the most obtuse of observers that which I have already stated. Family is number one in the Riggins home.
"I didn't have much growing up, so I've never taken one second of my life with Julie and the kids for granted." Mr Riggins, or Tim as he insists, regales as we sit down in their warm family room.
"My mother died when I was young and it became just my brother and I not long after." As he speaks I can see in his surprisingly expressive eyes that this was once a topic that brought him great pain, but now he speaks of it with a smile that shows a lifetime of acceptance.
"When Jules came into my life, we were still just kids. There was no way we could have known that this would be our lives. Hell, I couldn't even see a life outside of our tiny town."
Dillon Texas, a tiny little town located near Odessa, where Tim was born and raised seems like a whole world away from the beautiful home the couple have created in Dallas.
"I will always be thankful that Eric Taylor took that job at Dillon High and walked into my life."
Tim credits Eric Taylor, the high school football coach that led Tim's Dillon Panthers to 3 state championships, as the man that saved his life. Tim regales me with the story of an irresponsible, drunken teenager with no direction and little to no supervision. But as he describes his teenage self his wife sits beside him shaking her head gently while smiling softly at him.
When I question her, she throws back her head and laughs with such light and happiness; both Tim and I can't help but laugh along with her. "He's not lying nor trying to cover anything up. He was like that. But he is forgetting something. He was always a wonderful man, with a kind heart and beautiful soul. He never consciously hurt anyone and he never forced anyone into anything. Quite the opposite. There were always plenty of girls that threw themselves at him, with no regard for his own wants and needs, and they along with the town threw him away when they were done with him. Any faults or short comings Tim had as a teenager were well earned."
Julie Riggins, nee Taylor, speaks of her husband with a not so thinly veiled protectiveness that leads me to believe there is much more to this story than just a scallywag teenager taking advantage of the position football put him in. The subject is quickly changed as Tim takes her hand gently in his and turns to me.
"It's no secret that I'm the kid from the wrong side of the tracks that came good."
"You were always good." Julie interjects and Tim smiles softly at her.
"But not even I could have dreamed this for myself. For Street, absolutely, but not for me."
Jason Street was Tim's sports agent; he was paralysed in the first game of the season of their junior year of high school football. Up until that game, he had the hopes of the town riding on his back to become the next great football legend. When that dream came crashing down, it seemed any dream Tim had of getting out of their little town died. So what changed?
"I went to live with the Taylor's for a while."
"You went to live with Julie's family? How'd that happen?"
"We weren't together then, Jules and I. I was having a hard time; I always knew I could turn to the Coach if I needed to. He took me in and I saw what a real family was like. It changed the way I thought, they changed the way I saw myself. They all saw potential in me or something."
When I ask how he came to be part of the family, both Tim and Julie laugh and shake their heads. They mirror each other unconsciously and you can't help but smile at the love that clearly still radiates between them.
"Jules and I had a bit of a rough start. But Mom and Dad were actually really accepting. Far more than I ever expected they could be." The couple inform me that Tim was 17, Julie 16, when they started dating and the unlikely pair definitely turned heads around their small town. But as with most things, the people of Dillon got used to seeing Tim and Julie together. It was more surprising when Tim went off to college.
"I got a full ride to UT to be a Longhorn." Tim says with a smile and recalls that after the first year, they were some of the happiest days of his life. When pressed as to why he didn't like his first year, he answers simply. "Jules wasn't there." Julie would join Tim at the University of Texas in Austin for Tim's second year and Julie's first. When we get to his graduation from UT with a degree in teaching under his belt and a contract with the New York Giants, Tim starts to fidget at the topic.
"Jules transferred to NYU for her final year so we didn't have to be separated, which I am still thankful for, but after she graduated and we'd been living in the city for over a year we both realised we weren't happy there but didn't know what to do about it."
"It was a hard time for us. It had the potential to end us, we were so miserable. But it didn't, and Tim was traded to the Cowboys, which was what we always wanted and we got out of New York and came home." Julie interjects when it's clear that Tim won't elaborate further. I would have pushed for more information myself, had it not been perfectly clear that that was a chapter of their lives they viewed as closed and would not expand on it further. Instead Tim smiles happily and changes the subject again.
"We have been so happy here. It really is home. We've never wanted to be anywhere else. As soon as we moved here we knew that this is where we wanted to get married and start a family, that we wanted to raise our kids here, grow old here. "
Tim and Julie were married on their 10th anniversary at the Dallas Arboretum, the high school sweethearts exchanged vows in a low key ceremony overlooking the lake, as the sun set.
"It was such a beautiful day. Like a dream." Julie gushed with a twinkle in her eye.
"It was amazing. She's so beautiful all the time, but that day was something magical." Tim still looks at his wife like he can't believe his luck and I have to admit that as I sit in front of them I am in awe.
Over the course of their 40 year marriage Tim and Julie have had 3 children and 7 grandchildren.
"First Peyton came along, then Emmie almost 3 years later. I was pregnant with Timothy when Tim won his second Superbowl. It was amazing watching him from the box with Peyton and Emmie while feeling Timmy kick away in my belly." Timothy Eric Riggins is the youngest of the Riggins brood and the only boy. So was there any pressure for Tim Junior to follow in his successful father's footsteps?
"None. I was always very careful to show Tim that I was proud of him no matter what he chose to do. If he liked football, great, I'd teach him everything I knew and help him as much as I could. If he didn't, then that would be great too. I would support him in anything he wanted. I'd be at every event and cheering no matter what it was." Tim smiles as he talks about his only son, who did play high school and college ball, but fell in love with his major and followed in his mother's footsteps to become a writer. Timothy Riggins is a sports writer for the Dallas Morning News, the paper where his mother Julie worked for 30 years.
"Peyton is a teacher, took after her grandparents on that one. And of course Emerson is touring at the moment." Emerson, Julie and Tim's second daughter, who rose to fame as one half of the Grammy award winning duo Emerson Vogue with her singing partner and best friend Vogue Isaacs, are now on their farewell tour, the duo retiring to focus on their families. "She's got the voice of an angel." Tim gushes, clearly a very proud father of all three of his children.
"They are the greatest achievements of my life. The trophies and the rings are great, but they can't hug you and tell you they love you."
Looking at Tim Riggins today, one of the greatest Fullbacks in football history, with more awards and achievements under his belt then even he can count; you can see that he means every word he speaks. His family are his crowning glory. When asked what he wanted his legacy to be, he speaks in an eloquent and genuine manner that eludes so many in the industry.
"I would hope that I would be remembered as a good man, a good son, husband, father and grandfather. A good friend, brother and uncle. That the people I love have always known just how much I love them, and how important they are in my life. Everything else is beyond wonderful, but if nothing else in this life, I want to be a good man, a well loved man who has given love to those around him. Love and kindness are the only things that are free in this world and yet so scarcely given. I would hope that I was generous with both."
After spending an afternoon in the Riggins family home, meeting the whole family and touring the house I can tell you with at least a fleeting degree of familiarity that Tim Riggins will leave the legacy he hopes for. Just ask his daughter Peyton.
"My mother and father are the people I most hope to be, they are loving and kind and supportive. My brother and sister and I were very lucky to have them, to grow up in this house filled with love and to be shown by example that where this is love there is hope."
A replay of the induction ceremony will air this Friday on Sports Center.
Tim smiled as Julie finished reading the article aloud. He looked around the living room at his family. His three beautiful kids, his seven grandchildren and his beautiful wife. He'd meant every word he said in the article. Everything that mattered to him in the world was in this room. The cupboard in the study was filled with wonderful moments in a sporting career but the walls of this house were covered in photographs capturing true memories of pure happiness and love. He'd started out in a small town with a mother who loved him, and not much else. His mother was soon taken away from him and life didn't hold the same joy and magic again. Not until the Taylor's moved to Dillon and the sun returned to his sky.
Now he sat, 68 years old, his youngest grandchild in his arms, and the greatest loves of his life all smiling and laughing around him. Life can be so messy, so unpredictable but it can also be a wonderful, magical ride. One that Tim would take over and over again if it meant he ended up here, in Dallas Texas with the titles of Husband, Father, Grandfather and friend.
Well that's it folks. The last chapter in the form of an article. What do you think? Did their lives turn out the way you would have hoped?
I am toying with the idea of a few outtakes. Some things that I skipped over. Like the honeymoon. Or the birth of Timothy Eric. Is that something you guys would be interested in? Review and let me know.
And thank you, for taking this journey with me, for sticking by me even when the updates were few and far between. Thank you all for your support.