Skip to main content


Washington's voluble Joe Theismann sports this gaudy ring on his pinkie, but he wants a real Super Bowl job

Excuse me," says the intrepid reporter. "Could you tell me where I might find Joe Theismann?"

The question seems to stun the attendants at the Redskins' practice field. Finally, with the air of a tour guide being asked the whereabouts of that big pointy thing called the Washington Monument, one elderly guard smiles indulgently and, without uttering a word, cups his hand to his ear. The message is clear: one doesn't have to find a quarterback who comes on like the Metroliner rolling in from Philly; one merely has to listen for the rumble and the roar of the Hollywood Joe Aerial Circus & Scrambling Road Show.

And sure enough, heard before he is seen, Theismann comes chugging out of the locker room with members of the news media in pursuit, wisecracking and waving to his assembled fans, signing autographs, tweaking children's cheeks, winking at the pretty girls and hugging giggling matrons while their husbands gleefully click away with their Instamatics. "I like being recognized," he says. "I like making people happy."

As always, Theismann gravitates to the TV lights and the still photographers' strobes like a moth to flame, inquiring of each newsman, "Hey, want anything from me?" They do, of course they do, perhaps because they are mindful of what befell a radio reporter who once had the temerity to say, "No, thanks"; undeterred, Theismann snatched the fellow's tape recorder, popped it on and did a lengthy self-interview about the Redskins' prospects and how he would personally see to it that they brought honor and glory to the banks of the Potomac.

Reserve Quarterback Mike Kruczek, a new Redskin acquisition who thought he had seen everything in four seasons of backing up Terry Bradshaw at Pittsburgh, decided otherwise when he first caught Theismann's act and barbed welcome: "Hey, Mike, will you let us try on your Super Bowl rings?" Agape, Kruczek whispered to a team official, "Is he always like this?"

Yes, and even more so when a rival sharpshooter rides into town and needs to be set straight about who's the No. 1 gun in Redskin country. "Remember, I've played behind some pretty tough guys," says Theismann. "And when you've been an officer in Patton's army, you learn how to protect your flanks."

Theismann is alluding to the four "agonizing" years he spent playing orderly to battle-scarred veterans Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer under the command of Field Marshal George von Allen. It hurts Theismann to talk about what it was like being "the new kid in the NFL's retirement home," but it's all glow when he talks about being at the controls of the Hollywood Joe Super Bowl Express. Just ask him.

"Hello, Joe," says the intrepid reporter, readying the first of his 86 in-depth questions. "How are you?"

"Fantastic," says Theismann. "After all those frustrating years on the sidelines, being a starting quarterback in the NFL is a dream come true. Yeah, I paid my dues—with interest. You can't believe the torture, the mental anguish. I never doubted my ability. I doubted that I'd ever get the chance to show my wares.

"Listen, I love a challenge. Like when I was a 5'10", 148-pound quarterback at South River [N.J.] High. I was set to go to North Carolina State until some newspaper guy said Little Joe would get killed if he went to Notre Dame. That ticked me off, and I said, 'I'll show them.' So I went to Notre Dame and only set 23 records, including most interceptions."

"Yes, well," says the intrepid reporter, "but tell me, as the foremost practitioner of the floating pocket, do you feel...."

"Same thing in the 1971 pro draft," says Theismann. "I was 177 pounds by then and still growing, but they said I was too small to play in the NFL. That's why I didn't go until the fourth round. Miami drafted me as a backup for Bob Griese, but, heck, he was young and in his prime, and I wanted to play right away. So I went with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian league. And what happens? In 1972 Griese breaks his leg and Earl Morrall, the backup they got in my place, gets to take over. The Dolphins win two straight Super Bowls while I'm running around up in Canada. Seeing as Morrall got my two championship rings, I had my own pinkie ring made up. It's a gold No. 7, my number, surrounded by three small diamonds to remind me how intelligent I am."

"I see," says the intrepid reporter. "Well, when you came to Washington you said it was the happiest day...."

"Sure, they already had two great quarterbacks in Sonny and Billy," says Theismann. "But Sonny was 40, Billy was 35, and I figured I'd spend a season or two learning from them and then get my shot. Little did I know that when they went out drinking, they were partaking of the Fountain of Youth.

"To tell the truth, I never learned much from them. They didn't offer and I wasn't asking. That's not my way. Especially after Sonny retired in 1975. That left Billy, and my relationship with him I wouldn't wish on anyone. It wasn't antagonistic, just empty. We never argued, never had words. In fact, we never spoke. Talk about alienation! Try sitting in meetings week after week and having no one talk to you. That's alienation."

"Yes, but, in the big picture," says the intrepid reporter, "wasn't Allen...?"

"A lot of my problems were self-inflicted," says Theismann. "Remember, I came into this city a very heralded young man. The media all said, 'Hey, here comes the new kid, the savior.' Trouble was, I started believing it. I got caught up in me. At practice I'd throw the ball 15 feet over a guy's head and then yell at him for not catching it. And when he'd say it was too high, I'd say, 'Well, jump!'

"It didn't help, either, that when I arrived they reprinted my book called Quarterbacking. I also opened a restaurant, Joe Theismann's. I mean, I was doing personal appearances, doing commercials, and I hadn't even played a game yet! Needless to say, I wasn't exactly met with open arms. It was like I came in with two strikes against me and was facing Nolan Ryan at dusk."

"Dusk, er...," says the intrepid reporter. "Let's see now, where were we? Oh, yes, wasn't George Allen...?"

"I could never communicate with the man," says Theismann. "Billy was going to be his quarterback and that was that. I realized that in 1976 when we were in a slump and I started against San Francisco. We were 5 and 3, they were 6 and 2, and they had one heck of a pass rush, the best in the league. Well, it was the only game we went over 300 yards passing all season. I was 20 for 32, threw three touchdowns, and we won 24-21. Then George says, 'I'm going to start Billy against the Cardinals because he always plays better against them.' I said to myself, 'How can I play better if I don't get to play? This can't be happening to me. I'm Joe Theismann, the beyond-reproach kid.' I'd been playing since I was 12 and I'd never backed up anybody. I wouldn't accept being Number 2. I always called myself Number 1A."

"Uh-huh," says the intrepid reporter. "However, on the other hand...."

"Don't get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for George Allen. He's a proven winner. It's just that there were vast differences between us. He liked oldtimers; I was a newcomer. He was a defensive specialist; I was a quarterback. He preferred a conservative offense; I preferred doing a little scrambling. I think the ultimate victory for George would be a 2-0 win. One thing he did teach me was how to be mentally tough. I had to be to survive the toughest ordeal I've ever been through."

"Er, ah," says the intrepid reporter, "could we back it up a moment...?"

"I've been wandering around looking for that ball," says Theismann, "and now I've found it. Yeah, I've found the green pastures. The grain is high, the trees are yielding fruit, and it's time to reap the harvest...."

Theismann pauses in deference to the moaning of the intrepid reporter who, overcome by writer's cramp, is struggling to keep up. Checking the poor fellow's notes, the quarterback says, "Yeah, that's right, 'found the green pastures.' No, 'the grain is high' comes first, then 'trees are yielding fruit,' and 'time to reap the harvest!' O.K., got it? I have to go now."

And so he does, leaving the intrepid reporter slumped over his note pad with his 86 in-depth questions intact, plus a new one: Who was that masked man? Friends insist that Theismann is a crusader without mystery, that the public Theismann—candid, cocky, brash, voluble, playful, outrageous, enthusiastic, self-absorbed—is the real Theismann. A likable, even downright inspiring leader of men, they say. Indeed, in a town that of late has endured its share of strutting would-be heroes, Theismann has become more than the people's choice in this election year.

"Joe not only has the team, the coaches and the fans believing in him," says Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard, "he has himself believing in him, and that's the key. I'm not sure he always had that, no matter how much talking he did." Theismann, forever his own best analyst, says he knows why the faith was so long in coming: "My mouth always preceded my performance."

No more. It took some seasoning and a lot of taming by Washington's offensive coordinator, Joe Walton, but Little Joe has come of age. In 1978, after Jack Pardee replaced Allen as coach, Theismann won the starting job and responded by leading the rebuilding Redskins to six straight victories. Then he faltered, throwing costly interceptions and requiring emergency relief from Kilmer as the Skins won only two of their final 10 games to close out the season at 8-8.

Last season, with Kilmer in retirement and Theismann declaring himself free at last of "outside distractions," Little Joe started all 16 games for the first time. The Redskins rolled up 348 points, the second-highest total in the club's 48-year history. Joe the Throw's aerial revue—59% accuracy, 2,797 yards, 20 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions—was the best performance by any Redskin quarterback in a decade, and his teammates voted him their MVP. In fact, Theismann rated higher in the NFL stats than Terry Bradshaw, Dan Fouts, Dan Pastorini or any other quarterback, save Roger Staubach. "I can be as good as anyone in the game," says Little Joe.

However, it may take Theismann longer to meet his self-proclaimed destiny—a Super Bowl championship—than he anticipates. After Sunday's 14-0 loss to Seattle, the Redskins' record is 1-3.

For his part, Theismann can always come up with a few thousand words on the subject of the new and improved Theismann. "When I wasn't playing much, I'd do anything to get recognized," he says. "If it was third-and-long, Katie, bar the door. I'd scramble around a lot, go for the bomb. I can still do it, but it just isn't smart football. I've learned that lesson."

And a few others: Theismann forces the ball less, throws to a variety of receivers, not just one, and stays in the pocket longer. Jurgensen, now a CBS TV commentator, says, "Joe has always had the athletic ability. Now he has the maturity and consistency. He's been remarkably steady, something he wasn't before. You just can't go for the home run all the time. You have to take what the other team gives you."

Befitting his new approach of "using my mind more than my body," Theismann disdains the label of scrambler in favor of "mobile quarterback." Translation: "I still can run. I can do the things I've always done, but now I'm more disciplined. I don't free-lance as much. I'm not always looking for the spectacular, the hot-doggish type of thing. I'm looking for consistency, moving the football. I've learned that sometimes smart football is just not colorful. The way Joe Walton wants things is the way I do them now. It's by design."

Walton's way is to call the game from the sidelines. Theismann isn't thrilled about that but consoles himself by calling audibles as well as the formations for one of the most complex offenses in the league. "We can run one play from 40 different formations," he says. "Our system's so complicated that I've become the Bobby Fischer of the NFL. I've always been a student of the game. It's just that I have a better teacher now. Joe is like a good book you want to keep reading over and over. I play a game with him—we describe game situations and see if we call the same plays—and we agree 85% of the time. We're really one mind in two bodies. He and I are like cut from the same tree. Perfectionists."

The most difficult concept to grasp, says Theismann, was that "I'm only one-11th of the offense. I'm a quarterback who now relies on the other players more, which I didn't do in the past. We're all playing on the same page now, and that's paramount in winning." Walton says, "If I've done anything for Joe, it's showing him that he can't beat Dallas by himself. Joe puts on a certain facade, but being alone with him a lot, I've come to admire him as a good, honest kid with great values. He has a touch of greatness."

The surprise is not that Theismann agrees with this greatness business so expansively but that his loud agreement is accepted so easily. Partly it's because his bravado is of the harmless Ali variety. And partly it has to do with an almost childlike openness that inspires him to deliver remarks like "I love life and I love to laugh." Indeed, he has a whole repertoire of lines that sound like CYO banquet throwaways: "Winning is a cure-all"; "Inside every NFL player there is a little boy"; "There's more to this game "than money." Guard Dan Nugent, Theismann's roommate at training camp and on the road, has heard them all and, like most of the Redskins, dismisses the bluster and braggadocio as the spillover of Theismann's "boyish exuberance."

Nugent and the others have learned that, try as they may, it's almost impossible to resent someone who not only admits to being "lippy" but also proudly numbers among his heroes and friends two of the most notorious loudmouths extant. "Howard Cosell is one of the most intelligent men in the world today," Theismann says solemnly. And for a "real thrill and a half," he says, nothing quite measures up to being in a Las Vegas nightclub audience and having your pal Don Rickles introduce you.

Is Theismann egotistic? "I'm egotistic," he says, "but I define that as belief in oneself." Arrogant? "I don't think I'm arrogant. I'm very intense and sometimes that gets misinterpreted." Cocky? "There's a fine line between cockiness and confidence. I'm confident." Brash? "Hey, sometimes I push too hard." Theatrical? "Yeah, I'm a ham."

Occasionally, Theismann will go for the surprise option of repentance: "When things went wrong, I tended to blame someone else, when I should've blamed myself." Of late, he's even been trying to perfect the old statue-of-humility play, although it often comes off as an afterthought tripping over a clichè. Example: "The thrill of victory is what I love—within the unit, of course. A quarterback is only as good as the men he plays with."

What Theismann does not do is apologize for Theismann. "Hey, I'm me," he says. Besides, a mild-mannered leader, he contends, would be a contradiction in terms. After all, who ever heard of a shy quarterback, a meek field general? They called Napoleon cocky, too, but he won some big ones. "Gosh," Theismann pleads, "if you can't believe in yourself, who are you going to believe in? And how can I get 10 other guys in the huddle to believe in me if I don't? What's that saying? If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Well, I just like to cook."

Defensive Tackle Diron Talbert, the last of the active Over-the-Hillers, speaks from the perspective of a 13-year veteran of Redskin wars, internal and otherwise. "Theismann has really become a great team leader," Talbert says. "He's become one of the guys, a brother. Still, Joe has stayed Joe. I like that. If you're a cocky kid, be a cocky kid. Be yourself. He's the Redskins' franchise."

And Little Joe has grown up in more ways than one. He has been resolutely pumping iron for the past three years and now tops out at 6'½" and a solid, chesty 195 pounds. Though he envies Bradshaw's arm, Joe the Throw is in the ICBM class himself; two years ago he uncorked a desperation pass against St. Louis that traveled 80 yards on the fly. Strong enough to bench-press 225 pounds, Theismann delights in showing up the massive linemen who go soft in the off-season. "When I walk into the weight room and see them straining at 350 or 400 pounds in the squat, I ask them to spot it at 405, do my reps and stroll off. Drives them crazy," he says.

Beyond muscle, Theismann has what Pardee calls "superb athleticism." An accomplished golfer, bowler and tennis, pool and racquetball player, Theismann entered the 1980 TV Superstars competition and, typically, trained for it like an Olympic hopeful. He ran three miles a day in five-pound boots and logged more miles on his baby-sitter's bicycle than a fleet of neighborhood paper boys. He finished first in the football division—beating more celebrated legmen like John Stallworth in the half-mile run—fourth among U.S. athletes and ninth in the world finals. He pocketed nearly $25,000 for his efforts.

Theismann, who once challenged Bob Hayes, the Olympic dash champion/Dallas Cowboy wide receiver, to a 60-yard race for $500 and lost by only two steps, says that nowadays "I can run the 40 in about five seconds flat. Put Too Tall Jones on my tail, and I'll turn it in four. Fear is a great motivator."

And playing the toy bulldog with the NFL grizzlies can be a shattering experience, as Theismann's "character bump," a nose that jukes left, then right, attests. In the name of valor, or more often an overblown sense of machismo, Theismann has sustained a range of injuries that has made him a favorite exhibit at sports-medicine seminars. In 1979, at a meeting sponsored by the Maryland Podiatry Association, Theismann said: "I have been knocked out three times, broken my nose seven times. I have a staple in my left shoulder that holds it together. I've broken three ribs on the left side, two on the right. I have a hip pointer. I have torn cartilage, thanks to the Atlanta Falcons, and a separated' left collarbone, courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys. I also have had bruised metatarsals and sprained toes. Other than that, I'm a healthy human being."

Spoken like the same foolhardy soul who, in 1974 and 1975, risked his career by volunteering for the hazardous duties of returner and downfield blocker on the Redskins' punt-return unit. "I didn't know it was dangerous at the time," says Theismann, who returned 17 punts for an average of 9.5 yards. "I did it because I was standing around on the sidelines doing nothing. Listen, nobody knows this, but returning punts is kind of fun."

For a long while, says Theismann, who also holds the ball for field-goal and extra-point attempts, "my sole claim to fame on the bubble-gum cards was that I once threw for a touchdown on a fake field-goal play. That's how bad it was."

Lately, convinced that Staubach shortened his career by "taking a lot of unnecessary hits," Theismann has begun sliding to avoid a crunching tackle. "There was a time when I didn't do my famous baseball hook slide," he says. "Yeah, when I was dumb."

Theismann claims that it wasn't ignorance but duty that made him impervious to the Notre Dame mystique in high school. Having been blessed with a receiver by the name of Drew Pearson, the South River Flash was recruited by some 120 colleges. He shunned Notre Dame because, for one thing, he's not Catholic. "I'm a Hungarian Methodist, and I'd never even heard of Knute Rockne and George Gipp and all those guys," he says. "I wasn't home watching college football on Saturdays. I was over at the high school, two blocks away, throwing the football at a tire hung from the goalpost. Or out in the yard throwing with my father. And when he wasn't available—he managed an Esso station seven days a week—I threw with my mother. She can wing it pretty good."

As a result, Notre Dame went begging, and Theismann signed with N.C. State, mainly because it was one of the few colleges with a nuclear reactor. "I wanted to be a nuclear engineer," he says. "I still don't know why." Then a Newark newspaper ran the story about Irish Coach Ara Parseghian's being interested in Theismann. Little Joe pasted the scoffing headline—LITTLE JOE WILL GET KILLED AT NOTRE DAME—to his bedroom wall "as a reminder" and packed his bags for South Bend. "Maybe I'm the wrong one to challenge," he says.

Maybe so. Theismann was confronted by six other freshman quarterbacks at the first Notre Dame practice session. "Six!" says Theismann. "All of them 6'4". I decided that very day I was going to be the best of the bunch and the best in Notre Dame history."

Roger Valdiserri, the Irish sports information director, must have known something. Shortly after Theismann's arrival in South Bend, Valdiserri called Joe into his office to lay the foundation for a classic publicity ploy. "Son," Valdiserri said, "how do you pronounce your name?" "Thees-man," said Theismann. "Nope," said Valdiserri. "From now on it's Thighs-man, as in Heisman."

Thighs-man lived up to his billing. In his senior year, going against mighty USC in a driving rain that had turned the field into a quagmire, he passed for a school-record 526 yards. In 1970 he broke Staubach's Cotton Bowl passing records, and in a return engagement with Texas the next year, he passed for one touchdown and ran for two more in the first 17 minutes as Notre Dame snapped the Long-horns' 30-game winning streak and knocked them out of their No. 1 ranking. As Parseghian was fond of saying, "Never underestimate the magic of Joe Theismann."

Cheryl Brown didn't. As Theismann recalls, "One of the guys told me there was this great-looking blonde secretary working in Valdiserri's office. I got this weakness for blondes, so I walked over and got a publicity picture from her. Every day I'd stop by and get a picture. Finally I had a stack of them and had to come up with a new excuse." Joe and Cheryl were married in his senior year, which he figures served Valdiserri right. "He changed my name, so I changed hers," says Theismann. "I got even."

The 1971 pro draft was a downer. Theismann, who was the 99th pick (by Miami) behind seven other quarterbacks, including Leo Hart (59) and Karl Douglas (78), still rankles at the suggestion that bigger is better. "I don't know where they get that size thing in football. It's a myth," he says. "They say a small quarterback can't throw over a 6'5" defensive lineman. How many times does he have to if his own line is functioning? When people say that size is a factor, I ask them to name five great quarterbacks who are 6'3" or more. They can't do it. Size is no factor."

So it was off Toronto for three very successful Canadian Football League seasons until, in 1974, the Redskins traded a first-round draft choice to the Dolphins, whose offer Joe had spurned in '71, for the rights to Theismann. Arriving in D.C., Hollywood Joe was quickly upstaged. Not once, but twice. What is it like, he was asked at the time, playing third string behind Jurgensen and Kilmer? "It's like when you have three wheels for a bike and you only need two," he said. "One has to lean against the wall. Well, here I am."

Kilmer recalls, "Sonny and I both wanted to start, of course, but when Theismann joined the Redskins, we didn't care which one of us did as long as it wasn't him."

No stranger to being the target of name-calling, Theismann managed to pick up a new title on his first day with the Redskins: scab. "That was the year of the players' strike," recalls one former Over-the-Hiller. "Because Joe considered himself technically a rookie, he walked into camp and began practicing. The veteran players were walking the picket line. That started Joe's problems, the questioning of his leadership role." Theismann counters, "I had a job to earn. I wouldn't be any good to the Redskins and the strike wouldn't be any good to me if I didn't make the team."

He made the team, all right, but getting in good with his teammates was another matter. "Let's get this Theismann situation straightened out," says Kilmer. "It wasn't my fault that he didn't get along with me. He didn't want to. When Joe became a Redskin, Jurgensen and I tried to help him. We knew we wouldn't last forever. In quarterback meetings we would try and explain things to him, but he seemed indifferent toward us. So we said the hell with him if that's the way he was going to be. Have you ever heard of a Notre Dame quarterback who didn't think he knew it all?"

Theismann has all too often heard about the long green line of Irish quarterbacks who failed to make it big in the pros—Angelo Bertelli, Bob Williams, Frank Tripucka, Ralph Guglielmi, Terry Hanratty, John Huarte. "Well, Johnny Lujack and Daryle Lamonica didn't do too badly," he says, "and all I can say about the old line, 'All you Notre Dame quarterbacks are the same—destined to be backups,' is yes, until now."

The nadir of what Theismann calls his "NFL roller-coaster ride" came one October evening in 1977. Speaking at a boosters' dinner, he was asked about Allen and, much to his regret, he pulled the cork on his bottled-up emotions. Among other things, he said Allen used people and was less than honest, particularly in denying Theismann his chance to play. Saying he drew his incentive to keep trying from the fans, Little Joe concluded, "I stopped playing for George Allen two years ago, because I can't play for someone who treats me that way."

Theismann was unaware there was a reporter present, and when his remarks made the morning editions, he rushed to Allen's doorstep at 7:30 a.m. to apologize. No answer. Returning home, he was confronted by Cheryl, who said, "Your big mouth got you in trouble again!" He says now, "She began crying, and it got so bad I had to draw the blinds."

Theismann apologized to Allen later that morning. Allen said he was hurt but understood Joe's frustrations. "When I wasn't traded after that incident," says Theismann, "I put all thoughts of moving to another team out of my head. I was George's insurance policy, and obviously nothing I did or could do would change that. I thought about tossing in the towel, and if I hadn't been married with a family, I might have. The last time I saw George—as he was walking out of here—he told me, 'You'll probably get to play now.' "

"Live for today" is another of Theismann's favorite sayings, and he does just that. In addition to being on TV and radio as a pitchman for furniture, cameras, banks and several charities, he does a Monday evening sportscast in the nation's capital during the football season and co-hosts a TV talk show. Good Morning, Washington, in the off-season. Monday nights he holds court at his restaurant, which isn't far from his two-story colonial home in Vienna, Va. Ever the scrambler-about-town, he plays the Hollywood Joe role to the hilt: limos, tinted shades and a wardrobe he describes as "modern flashy." Otherwise, he is Joe Homebody. "I can play the scene," he explains, "but I still have three children."

And how does the star quarterback prime himself for the big Sunday game? A cartoon freak, Theismann gets up early on Saturdays with his three kids, Joey, 9, Amy, 7, and Patrick, 19 months, and settles in for a long morning of watching TV monsters and space cadets, beginning with his favorite character, The Roadrunner. Theismann loves TV and, though a former Academic All-America who graduated with a B average in sociology, hates books. "I read slowly and I move my lips," he says.

Theismann wants to be in the flicks and has in fact already acted in one film, entitled Sam Marlow, Private Eye, in which he mainly stands behind George Raft with his arms folded, looking tough, like a linebacker. "When I think about the future, I think about acting and movies and TV and sportscasting," says Theismann. "I'd really like that. On my Canadian visa, when I played up there, they had me down as an 'entertainer,' and they were right. That's the business I'm in—show business—and the football field is my stage."

Theismann has taken acting lessons, and his Hollywood agent takes him on the rounds of the casting directors. Hence the Hollywood Joe handle, which was hung on him by former Redskin Center Ted Fritsch and instantly stuck, much to Theismann's delight. He feels it lends luster to his image and equates him with his hero and fellow Hungarian, Broadway Joe Namath. From the way Theismann's distaff fans, not to mention lady feature writers, go on about his tousled blond hair, devilish blue eyes and flashing white teeth, the world may indeed be ready for a bent-nose heartthrob. Theismann sees himself as a cross between Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, and he has been studying their macho ways. "I've seen Smokey and the Bandit 10 times on cable TV," he says.

While the silver screen waits, Theismann is making do with a Redskin contract that pays him $150,000 a season, plus bonuses. Come renewal time in 1982, he could command half a mil a year. Entrepreneur Joe dabbles in the silver market, owns part of a broodmare in Kentucky and has assorted real-estate holdings, including a condominium in Fort Lauderdale that is just a long pass or two from Billy Kilmer's place. "Maybe we'll get together for a round of golf sometime," says Theismann.

Though he keeps saying "Talk is cheap," Theismann is not above charging $3,000 to $5,000 for one of the 40 or so lectures he gives on motivation to business groups during the off-season. One of the better jock orators, he delivers his football-as-a-microcosm-of-society speech with a rousing èlan that would do Rockne proud. Which figures. Even when he is alone, Theismann talks aloud to himself. And, of course, he will bend anyone's ear for free—especially if the listener is taking notes.

"Yes, sure," says the intrepid reporter, winding down in a second go-around with the mobile quarterback, "but looking back do you feel...?"

"I try not to look back," says Theismann. "It's like the line from a Dionne Warwick song: 'A fool will lose tomorrow looking back on yesterday.' I believe that. I believe this is just the beginning. Hey, I'm not a kid in this league anymore. I'm 31. And I really believe we're ready to go all the way. I really believe I can be a 65% passer this year and...."

"But, but," the intrepid reporter interrupts, having learned a defensive move or two, "no NFL quarterback completed more than 63% of his passes last season and...."

"I kid Mike Kruczek about trying on his Super Bowl rings, but I'm serious. I've always wanted to wear the ring. Forget the money. The ring is what it's all about. I've had all the Pittsburgh rings on. I've had the Yankee ring on. The Raiders' rings are the most beautiful. Yes, I make no bones about it. I'm like a little kid." Pause. "Any more questions?"

Pause. "No," says the intrepid reporter, flipping his notebook shut on his 86 in-depth questions, all still intact. "That about covers it."





No 98-pound weakling, Little Joe is the first to tell you that he can do 405 pounds in the squat.



Of his exuberance on the gridiron, Theismann says, "Inside every NFL player there is a little boy."



With son Patrick pushing and wife Cheryl pulling, Theismann gets a free and easy ride on off days.



Walton calls the Redskins' plays but Theismann makes them work.