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.
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The Hit That Changed a Career
As he was wheeled off the field, two of the people who helped push the stretcher, Tyer recalled, were fans who had come down from the stands, unchallenged by security. His departure from the stadium was accompanied by an ovation from the crowd, applause that, Theismann said, "I'll never forget as long as I live. . . . The big Longines clock at RFK Stadium was at 10:05. Everything is so vivid in my mind."
Carson remembers that, as Theismann was being taken off the field, "Joe being Joe said to all of us, 'Don't worry guys. I'll be back.' I looked at him lying there and I said 'Joe, you'll be back, but you won't be back tonight.' At least he still had his sense of humor."
Said Theismann, "Once they put me on that gurney, I think I said to [backup quarterback] Jay Schroeder, 'Go get 'em, kid.' Then as they were wheeling me up behind the ambulance, I heard another roar. Art had just caught a long pass. Then we went to the hospital. When we pulled up there, as they were transferring me from the ambulance to a stretcher, they actually forgot to pick up my right leg. It just kind of flopped down. I remember saying to the attendant, 'Hey, can you just grab the rest of me?'
"They started prepping me for surgery, but I wanted to see the rest of the game. So they brought in this little black and white TV with a coat hanger for an antenna. Late in the game, when the Giants missed an attempt on fourth down, I told the doctors, 'Okay, go do what you have to do.' "
Back at RFK, Schroeder, who had played in only three games and thrown eight passes in his career, led the Redskins to a 23-21 victory, completing 13 of 21 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. He went on to lead the team to five victories in the last six games and a 10-6 record that still wasn't good enough to make the playoffs.At Arlington Hospital, Jackson began what he called a "meticulous surgery" on Theismann's leg. "You started off with a gallon of saline solution, and you just kept washing it and washing it," he said. "The problem was that the membrane around the bone had been stripped away. It took awhile before we felt comfortable putting one bone against the other. Then you have to cast it so it doesn't move. We put him in a long leg cast with a window so we could constantly clean the wound."
Initially, Theismann did not doubt that he would play again. He had returned to the field only eight weeks after breaking his right leg in a Canadian Football League game in 1972.
"I felt like it was just a broken leg," he said. "That's why I chose never to watch the footage of the play. There are two aspects to rehabilitation -- the physical and the mental. I felt that if I never knew how bad the leg had been broken, the mental hurdle to the rehab wouldn't have been as big. I just felt why couldn't I do it again?"
This time, there was no way. The compound fracture in the tibia had led to insufficient bone growth when his leg healed, leaving the right slightly shorter than the left. For an NFL quarterback, it was the end of the line -- although Theismann admitted that took several years to sink in.
Theismann had other things on his mind as he recovered. He had gone through a messy and costly divorce only two years earlier. He was in a serious relationship with entertainer Kathy Lee Crosby, and had recentlypurchased a farm in Northern Virginia. Theismann was concerned about how he would continue to make the same kind of living without playing the game. He was in the first year of a four-year, $6 million contract.
When Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke signed him to the deal, he had handed him the business card of a Lloyd's of London representative and insisted that Theismann take out an insurance policy that would at least pay off part of the contract if he was injured. He also told him not to deduct the cost of the premium on his tax return, so that if he was injured, he would not have to pay taxes on the settlement if the policy paid off.
"When it came time to cash in the insurance policy, we had doctors and attorneys out at the old Redskins Park," Theismann said. "They wanted to see me work out to see if I could play again. I went out on the field to throw, and as I moved to my right, I was moving okay. When I tried to move to my left, I think I looked like Peg Leg Pete. The workout was supposed to last about 30 minutes. There were 15 people watching me when I started. When I turned my back at one point, I looked around and they were just about all gone. I said, 'Hey, wait, I'm not done,' and whoever was still out there said to me, 'Yes, you are.' "
Lloyd's paid about $1.5 million. Two years later, Theismann was still trying to persuade teams to give him a shot, but no one was interested in a 37-year-old quarterback coming off a badly broken leg. Even when Theismann launched his career as a football analyst at CBS, his initial contract with the network, and then two years later with ESPN, included clauses that he could get out of the deals if he signed a contract to play football.
That never happened. Instead, the injury redefined Theismann's life. "I have friends who will say, 'Ah, he hasn't changed that much,' but I have. I really have," he said. "I've tried to understand the value of family and friendship. I had gotten so self-consumed trying to be Joe Theismann, the football star, instead of Joe Theismann, the person. I lost touch with what was important in life, and I certainly didn't pay the game itself the respect I should have."
Theismann has remarried and remains a popular and highly compensated motivational speaker. This year, he was placed on the preliminary list of 126 players eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Starting next season, he will be the analyst on "Monday Night Football" when ESPN takes over the broadcast from ABC, its parent company.
Theismann has stayed friendly with Taylor, who called him in the hospital the day after his initial surgery 20 years ago. When Theismann told Taylor he had broken both major bones in his right leg, Taylor wrote recently that he had joked, "That's because I don't do anything halfway. If I'm gonna break them, I'm gonna break them both."
Taylor was unavailable for comment for this story.
"I once told him we were always going to be linked together because of that night, and he told me it had an impact on his life, too," Theismann said. "He said it drove home the point to him that no matter how great you are, it can be over in a heartbeat, and you never know if tomorrow will be the last day you ever perform."