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Joe Theismann Chews On His Foot Again

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Things usually don't end well for Joe Theismann when he opens up his mouth. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.
Things usually don't end well for Joe Theismann when he opens up his mouth. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.

Nearly twenty-nine years ago — September 1984 to be exact — Sports Illustrated’s cover featured a certain Redskins quarterback with his mouth taped shut and the caption, “Washington’s Joe (All I Do Is Get Myself In Trouble With My Big Mouth) Theismann.” Even casual football fans would have found the choice of Theismann as SI’s cover boy in the fall of ’84 sound, but the condescending tone of the pitch might have seemed peculiar. At the time, Theismann had led Washington to back-to-back Super Bowls, was the reigning NFL MVP and was the starting quarterback on an offense that had just set the NFL record for points scored in a season. Yet the photo of Theismann left the quarterback a fuzzy wig and red nose away from being a clown or a suit away from a look befitting the opposing party’s presidential nominee on the cover of political rag. So what was behind the disparaging portrayal of a player at the peak of his career? Well, it was a familiar foe: his incessantly running mouth.

What did Theismann say that time? Specifically, I don’t remember, but whatever it was the tape on his piehole clearly indicated he said too much … again. Theismann’s propensity to catch frequent cases of diarrhea of the mouth has plagued him for years. Sure, he was able to parlay his “gift” for gab into a successful broadcasting career, but his never-ending flow of often unsolicited opinions surely wore thin with teammates, abbreviated several media gigs, complicated his relationship with fans and, perhaps most importantly, overshadowed his stellar career. Theismann should be loved in Washington. He is a borderline Hall of Famer, threw for the most yards in team history, never wore another NFL uniform (unlike other iconic ‘Skins like John Riggins, Sonny Jurgensen and Art Monk) and quarterbacked the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory. Despite all that, he’s not even in the conversation of the most popular players in ‘Skins history — and he absolutely should be.

His Own Worst Enemy

Theismann’s verbal verbosity is primarily to blame for his excessively low approval rating. His vocal faculties have always been and remain in marathon runner shape. Pick the most extroverted person you know, drop them in the company of Theismann and they’d immediately seem like a wallflower. The first rule of showbiz is “always leave them wanting more”; Theismann often leaves you begging for less. He’s a guy who has convinced himself that you need to hear what’s on his mind. Soliciting his opinion is fine but certainly not required; active listening is overrated. Frankly, staying conscious while he talks isn’t even necessary, so go ahead and doze off. He’ll still be talking when you wake, and will likely repeat everything he said while you napped.

None of this is to say Theismann is a jerk. He certainly has an arrogant streak (which makes him like every other professional athlete), but by in large, Theismann is thoughtful, professional and pleasant. He’s a decent guy, a good football analyst and has a passion for his former employer. He’s just a preacher to his core, and lacks any sixth sense to decipher when he’s “progressed” from informative to wordy to annoying.

Condemned To Repeat The Past

29 years after that SI piece, little has changed. In a recent interview on The Holden & Danny Show on 106.7 The Fan in Washington, D.C., Theismann made it clear that he’d love to succeed long-time broadcaster Sam Huff in the Redskins’ game-day radio booth. As if that acknowledge of interest wasn’t tacky enough considering the immediacy of Huff’s retirement, Theismann further gushed that he’s done “everything you can do in the media.” Wow. Gee, Joe, the ‘Skins should be throwing themselves at you. In fact, why didn’t they fire that crusty old Huff years ago and reboot their game-day broadcast with you? Oh, let me count the ways …

In Theismann’s defense, he didn’t commandeer the interview and convert it into a personal infomercial; he was asked if he’d be interested in the job and answered honestly. What he missed, though, prior to devouring the juicy, irresistible prompt was the obvious: that this should be Huff’s time. Huff, a Hall-of-Fame linebacker, played in D.C. between 1964 and 1969, and his No. 70 (like Theismann’s No. 7) is one of the few no longer issued by the ‘Skins. Huff began calling ‘Skins games in 1975 and, in 1981, combined forces in the radio booth with Sonny Jurgensen to form the legendary (and I stress legendary) “Sonny & Sam” broadcast team. In short, Huff’s retirement is more than just a transient radio voice quietly leaving town; it largely marks the end of an iconic player’s 50-year association with the franchise (although Huff has plans to do some pre-game media work). Huff should be celebrated and allowed to gradually ride off into the sunset while those with any affinity for the organization soak in all the nostalgia of his impressive career.

It Tastes Like Leather

When asked about filling Huff’s still warm seat, Theismann should have politely deflected the spotlight from his own career aspirations and back onto the man of the moment: Sam Huff. Theismann certainly has other, far more subtle ways to announce his candidacy to the organization. Rather than taking a dignified off-ramp, Theismann, as he so often does (see mouth tape, circa 1984), either misread the moment in his haste to discuss his personal interests or simply couldn’t help himself. His response came off as a tacky, if not rude, professional grab that awkwardly placed Theismann into Huff’s still trailing shadow. And like so many other times during Theismann’s playing or media career, he was probably closer to actually getting his desired outcome (in this case, Huff’s job) before he opened his mouth. Instead, he again dined on an old and familiar friend: his foot.