By Joe Theismann with Dave Kindred Contemporary Books. 197 pp. $17.95

"Theismann" is more like a long magazine piece than an autobiography. Joe Theismann, who admits on more than one occasion to being no "rocket scientist," takes us on a shallow but enjoyable trip along the surface of his life. The motive of the book seems somehow tangled up in a desire by Theismann to make a clean breast of things while at the same time explaining his reasons for acting like a demented twit for most of his life.

I must admit to a certain ignorance about Theismann's life -- being neither interested for any particular reason nor inundated with Redskin gossip since I do not live in Washington -- but he certainly filled me in on a few things, and I can't help but want to pass along the advice given by the evangelist to the congregant who admits to having carnal knowledge of goats:

"Oops! I don't believe I'd a tol' that."

The first and most interesting story that Theismann confirms as true is the one that circulated during his senior year at Notre Dame. The story had it that Joe Theismann changed the pronunciation of his name from "Theesman" to "Thighsman" in order to give himself a better chance at winning the Heisman Trophy. And not content to leave the story there, Joe goes on to attribute the change in pronunciation to his grandmother.

In the course of this short book, Theismann admits to raging egomania, compulsive gambling, self-destructive and randomly destructive behavior, greed, envy, insecurity that teetered on the brink of paranoia, shamelessly cozying up to the wealthy, famous and powerful, and basically being so morally unsound as to be willing to listen to any scheme that might advance him in the world. It makes fascinating reading, but 197 pages of it is more than enough and lucky for us, and the publisher, along comes a glamorous movie and television star to rescue us from Joe and, hopefully, Joe from Joe. It all works out rather neatly, although I would have preferred a few more specifics about Cathy Lee Crosby, Theismann's love of his life.

"So many people took the time to help me," he writes, "not only to make me a better athlete, but also a better person ... Given a second chance, I would spend just as much energy at making Joe Theismann the best quarterback he could be. Many times, though, I wished I'd paid more attention to making Joe Theismann a better guy."

Beware of the man who speaks of himself in the third person and, unfortunately, makes a confession like this on the very last page of the book. It appears that he feels this more than makes up for the damage done in his infantile frenzy to be a football player. His sense of contentment and satisfaction is no more obviously transparent than in these final words.

"It took a broken leg to end my playing days, and maybe it took the end of my playing days to teach me what life is all about. It's about love and caring ... To my parents, to Cathy Lee, to all my friends, coaches and teammates who have long known what I only now am learning, thank you. Thank you very much for helping. It's my turn to give to you."

Yeah sure, Joe. That warm, loving guy didn't show up much in the book, and for a self-confessed gambling addict, you don't sound too caring, communicative or fun.

If you are a Washington Redskins fan, a Joe Theismann fan, a football fan, or if you went to Notre Dame, you might want to read this book. It doesn't take much effort and it is short. For the money, Joe Theismann shows us more of his behind than you would expect in a book twice the length.