Correction to This Article
A Nov. 13 article incorrectly said that the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division filed three friend-of-the-court briefs in fiscal 2005, down from 22 in 1999. The division filed 14 such briefs in 2005. The article also said that lawyer Richard Ugelow left the division in 2004. He left in 2002.

The Hit That Changed a Career

"Joe being Joe said to all of us, 'Don't worry guys. I'll be back,' " Giants linebacker Harry Carson said. "You won't be back tonight," Carson said. (By Fred Sweets -- The Washington Post)
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 18, 2005

The scar, about four inches above his right ankle, is hardly visible, and when former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann lifts his pantleg, the slight bend in his right leg is barely discernible. Still, they are constant reminders of The Hit That No One Who Saw It Can Ever Forget, the hit that, in ESPN polling, was the runaway winner as the most shocking moment in NFL history.

Twenty years ago tonight, in the second quarter of a "Monday Night Football" game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins at RFK Stadium, linebacker Lawrence Taylor ended Theismann's NFL career with a tackle that snapped the bones in Theismann's right leg.

"People break legs all the time in football. It involves the cracking of a bone, but most times, you can't see it," said Dan Dierdorf, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman who later became a "Monday Night Football" analyst and was watching the game on TV. "That night, what you saw was so graphic, and when you watch something that's so far out of the normal, you just gag, but you almost can't help watching it again and again."

To this day, Theismann says he has not seen a replay. He said Taylor has told him he has not watched it, either.

The Redskins were 5-5, coming into the game after a loss to Dallas. Although the Giants were 7-3, Theismann recalled having a hot hand early in the game, completing seven of his first 10 passes. In the second quarter, on a play called in from Coach Joe Gibbs, he had handed off to running back John Riggins, who started toward the line of scrimmage. An instant before Giants linebacker Harry Carson hit Riggins, he wheeled and pitched the ball back to Theismann on a flea flicker pass.

"I remember handing the ball to John, getting it back and then looking downfield," Theismann said in a recent interview. "I couldn't find Art [Monk] deep, and then I looked to my right for [tight end] Donnie [Warren]. At that point, I was feeling some pressure, and the next thing I knew, I heard what sounded like a shotgun going off -- Pow! Pow! -- and felt this excruciating pain. Then I was on the ground."

Taylor, a Hall of Fame linebacker, knew immediately after hitting Theismann that the quarterback was in deep trouble. Taylor immediately leaped up and, in a move out of character for football players, frantically signaled to the sideline as he raced toward the Washington bench to get the Redskins' medical people on the field.

Within seconds, the Redskins' orthopedic surgeon, Charles Jackson, was on the field, along with Gibbs and Redskins trainer Bubba Tyer.

"It was at that point, I also found out what a magnificent machine the human body is," Theismann said. "Almost immediately, from the knee down, all the feeling was gone in my right leg. The endorphins had kicked in, and I was not in pain. I remember looking up and seeing Bubba being on my left side. I looked at him and said, 'Please call my mom and tell her I'm okay.' Joe was kneeling on my right side. He's looking at me and he says, 'You mean so much to this club, and now you've left me in one heck of a mess.' "

Theismann's right leg was mangled. He had a compound fracture of the tibia, meaning the bone had snapped in two, with one end protruding from Theismann's skin, and a shattered fibula.

Tyer recalls that Theismann told him, "Bubba, I've really done it now," and that, when he got to him, the quarterback already had a calm about him that he has noticed over the years in many other seriously injured players. "I was on the sidelines with my back to the play trying to reduce someone's [jammed] finger," said Jackson, who had joined the team only about a month earlier. "I just remember L.T. coming over and grabbing me. I hadn't seen the play, and when I went out on the field, I looked down at Joe's leg and his bone was sticking through his sock. Remember, I've only been doing this for three weeks, and I'm saying to myself, 'Oh, man, what have I gotten myself into here?' "

As Jackson and other medical personnel worked on Theismann, Jackson's primary concern was making certain that dirt, pieces of grass and fiber from Theismann's sock were removed from the wound to decrease chances of infection and improve chances of fixing the bone properly in surgery. Theismann's leg was encased in a pressure cast up to his knee, and he was placed on a stretcher.

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