Joe Theismann is late, which is not all that unusual. "He has to rush just to be only a little late," says his wife. He is wearing an expensive brown vested suit, white shirt and tie, and he has a briefcase at his side. The Distinguished Businessman, in full uniform.
Flies are on Theismann's mind. They have to go. There is not enough room in his restaurant -- called, naturally, "Joe Theismann's -- for him and them, especially after one had the nerve to land on his face the night before while he was entertaining friends.
"Tommy," Theismann says to one of his restaurant managers, "the flies shouldn't be here. There must have been six of them. I was just livid, especially when one landed on me." He laughs and says in mock tones, "Hey, Mr. Theismann, can I have your autograph? I told them to get out of here." m
What Theismann can't understand and what his manager, who is by now spraying the elusive flies with a can of Raid, can't explain to him is why the flies have penetrated the restaurant in the first place. Didn't they pay a guy by the name of Buggs to come all the way from Florida just to make sure such pests were exterminated?
"Buggs says to spray them," says the manager, spraying all the time.
Theismann worries about flies. He worries about the menu. He worries whether the 500 pictures of himself in the Redskin uniform, which he autographs and hands out to customers, are the right size and finish. He worries whether the Muzak is too loud and whether a guest likes the eight-ounce hamburger at lunch ("No stamped-out patties in this place").
Redskin Park and his job as a National Football League quarterback are just a 30-minute drive away from his Baileys Crossroads restaurant. But with the start of training camp still weeks off, he is not ready yet to make his annual transition from Joe Theismann, the Very Successful Businessman, to Joe Theismann, Star Jock on Washington's favorite athletic team. Not when there are flies to kill and a few more public appearances to make and perhaps another restaurant ready to be purchased.
At age 30 -- he'll be 31 in nine days -- Joe Theismann won't admit to having made his first million yet. But if he hasn't, he has at least almost that much in the bank. He is into oil wells, vitamins, precious metals, stocks, fast-food franchises, television movies and personal appearances. He earns with the help of bonuses, around $150,000 annually from the Redskins. His off-season income exceeds that figure and is growing every year.
Other than Sugar Ray Leonard, Theismann is the most popular and most visible athlete in Washington. He benefits handsomely by playing the key position on a team that is worshiped with cult-like allegiance by its fans. But he has not sat back and waited for the riches to pour in. He has gone out and grabbed them and reeled them in with the same kind of brash ambition he displays on the field.
He once wrote a book on how to quarterback before he had thrown a pass in the NFL. He allowed his name to be put on a restaurant while he was a second-string punt returner for the Redskins. He made his first public speech at a communion breakfast while he was an 18-year-old sophomore at Notre Dame, and he wasn't even Catholic.
It wasn't until last season that Theismann blossomed as a full-fledged pro football star, yet he already has an agent in Hollywood (for movies) and an agent in Cleveland (for another major financial matters), plus an accountant, an attorney and a few local Washington representatives. Even when he was playing second-string behind Billy Kilmer (the two rarely talked) and having a running battle with George Allen (Theismann wanted to be played or be traded), he had so many organizations clamoring for his time on the banquet and guest appearance circuit that he could have filled every off-season day with a new booking.
"He is street smart," says Charles Brotman, president of one of Washington's top sports public relations firms who has represented past local heroes like Ted Williams, Frank Howard and, yes, George Allen, and he now handles Leonard.
"Being quarterback of the Redskins helps, of course. No matter who that is, he will be the superstar," says Brotman. "But he also is good-looking; he has charisma; he communicates well; and he has a nice-guy image. He is very visible; he makes a lot of charity appearances, things like that. No other Redskin quarterback has milked his position like Joe, and I mean that as a compliment. I admire him. He didn't wait for it to come to him. He's made his business contacts. His football career is only going to last for a short time, so he knows he can't waste the opportunity."
That's what Theismann thought five years ago when he was having lunch with a friend, John Horshok, at Clyde's. Horshok said he and some partners were thinking of opening a restaurant with Theismann's name on it. But why, Horshok asked, should they name it after a punt returner who doesn't seem to be liked by his coach or teammates?
"I told John," Theismann recalls, "that I didn't plan to be a punt returner all my life." So the deal was consummated. Theismann gave the place his name -- "the price was right, it didn't cost me anything" -- in exchange for 10 percent of the annual profits. Only three weren't any profits, just a lot of debts that kept piling up for the first six months.
"After six months, we lost maybe $30,000," Theismann says. "We owed the government, too.The people who were actually running it didn't take out withholding." Theismann, one of four controlling stockholders (24 in all originally owned stock), called a meeting of the board of directors, even though he wasn't a member. He wanted to see a financial statement. He got a half-sheet of paper with a bunch of figures on it.
"I said that I didn't claim to be an accountant or an attorney, but this wasn't right. When I put my name on something, I like to be proud of it. I said at first that I would spend as much time at the place as I could, autographing pictures and such, but we had to have good people and good food. God, I didn't want people coming in and saying, 'Theismann, what a crappy place you have.' But we did -- the decor was horrible, there must have been 18 different kinds of wood."
So Theismann, with help from his longtime manager, Vernon Grandgeorge, borrowed money to buy out two of the other three majority partners. Now he and Horshok have controlling interest among 13 stockholders. Theismann is president -- and hardly the typical jock restaurant owner.
He'll spend three or four nights a week at his remodeled place in the off-season, and a couple each week during the season. He'll mingle with the customers in front and pore over the books in back. And those books are written in nothing but black ink.
The restaurant works in part because Theismann long ago decided he would never be a mere figurehead in any of his business ventures. He says people are surprised when they see him in person at the place. "They figure I put my name on it and that's it."
But taking a passive interest in anything, especially when it involves people and money, would be uncharacteristic of Theismann. He describes himself as a "people person." What he may lack in book smarts is obscured by his uncanny instinct for making people comfortable.
By and large the fans love it. And Theismann knows it. So he has funneled his appeal into avenues that lead to income, increased fame and attention for him.
Anyone still skeptical of Theismann's drawing power in this Redskins-crazed town should eat in his place one night. And stand in line, as you have to do most visits. Despite its squeezed-in location along Leesburg Pike's fast-food alley in a small shopping center that also includes auto supply, dress and furniture stores, the restaurant is surprisingly appealing. With its brass rails in front, checkered tablecloths, medium-sized bar between the eating rooms and a new, back-of-the-establishment "Garden Club" dominated by plants and skylights, it is no suburban hole-in-the-wall.
"We get 90 percent return business, but two or three people come in here every week for the first time," Theismann claims while sipping a cup of coffee. "I had a New England Patriot player ask me about the place. Its fame is spreading.I love the location. We must have 200-300,000 people within a quarter of a mile. I just tell people, 'Try it, you'll like it.'"
"Joe Theismann's" is the center of a growing business empire. And the way he runs the place gives an insight into how he thinks as the Man in the Brown Vested Suit. He has surrounded himself with loyal employes and given them day-to-day authority. But he is always hovering nearby.
Theismann would like to expand his restaurant interests by at least two more restaurants within the next year. He is negotiating to buy one and renovate it, and he has thought about building one in Norfolk.
"I love this business," he said, waving his arm around the empty dining room. "I was never one who was to sit down and study books. And to be an accountant or an attorney, you have to do that. aI'd much rather be out with people doing people things. I love to see people smile."
The movie shifts to an office in a dingy bar, vintage 1945. The man who looks like Humphrey Bogart pulls a gun on George Raft. One of Raft's bodyguards makes a move. Bogart slaps him across the face, then smashes him in the jaw with a thunderous punch. The bodyguard falls back against a locker and slumps to the ground.
"Was I good, honey, was I good?" Joe Theismann, the bodyguard on the screen, asks his wife at a special screening of "The Man With Bogart's Face."
"Yes," says his wife. "I liked it."
But will the critics? Will they like Theismann's two-minute debut as an actor? His two-scene performance leaves him with a broken jaw (scene one), a sore groin and a wet body (both in scene two). And with a Hollywood bug.
"To me, this was as exciting as my first professional football game," Theismann says. "I want to do more. I've already read two or three more scripts. I even had my nose fixed. I have a deviated septum. It used to be real crooked, now it's just crooked." To add to his Hollywood image, his hair suddenly became lighter blond in the off-season, too. "Too much sun," he says, smiling.
His Hollywood agent, Budd Moss, got him the movie role. His Cleveland agent, Ed Keating, almost matched it by coming up with Theismann's first national commercial, for Canon cameras.
"Getting a national commercial for an athlete isn't easy," Keating said. "They all want them but maybe only 5 percent have the kind of national appeal. In Joe's case, he has national visibility through the Redskins. He has an All-America boy image. He's refreshing. He's also a Notre Dame grad.
"If he looks good in this commercial, the word will get out and there will be more. But it's essential he does well on the field and that the team does well, like go to the Super Bowl. A lot of quarterbacks are stars in their city, but a national audience is something else."
Keating also wonders if Theismann is not overexposed in the city he does dominate -- Washington. He'd like to see his client pull back from some of his commitments, make himself a more elusive commodity.
But Theismann, who makes most of the local decisions himself, thinks he is pursuing the right path. He is spokesman for a local savings and loan, for a shoe company and for a furniture outlet. "That's really it," Theismann says. "There is a credibility factor involved. If you turned on the TV set and saw me hawking everything, it wouldn't mean as much. I don't want to overdo it."
He uses the same philosophy to guide his personal appearances. Although he earned $35,000 for the Canon spot and $5,000 for a series of local savings and loan ads, he can make much more during the off-season from these programmed minglings with his public. His current fee: $2,500 although he'll charge less depending on who's asking. There is a crushing demand on his time even at this high rate. And nationally, where Sports Illustrated books his appearances, he has ample requests to give motivational talks at such events as national sales meetings and conventions.
"I deal with parents, pride, practice and education in my banquet speeches," he said. "I'll go 20 to 40 minutes and I'll try to include something for everyone. Why do companies want me? Well, being a quarterback, I guess they feel I am literate enough to carry on a conversation. I believe I have something to say. And I do it as well as anyone around."
Unlike some pro athletes, however, Theismann is not controlled solely by the almighty buck. No Redskin makes more charity and good will appearances; no Redskin is more willing to grab the flesh and sign seemingly endless autographs. His well-publicized link with Children's Hospital (his daughter, Amy, had heart surgery there) is his major charity function, but he also has done a national United Way commerical with Amy for the NFL, and he pumps the Special Olympics.
"I would tell my athletes, 'Get out and meet the public; it will help you later,'" Brotman said. "But most of them won't do it. That's where you meet the businessmen who are invaluable contacts later when you no longer are playing. See, Joe has done his homework. He's sincere about it, and people recognize that. He also has made a lot of friends in a lot of important places."
Yet Theismann's allout pursuit of a Mr. Clean image leaves open the question of his sincerity. An interviewer, just finished with a two-and-a-half-hour question-and-answer session, once told Theismann in an exasperated tone that he didn't seem real.
"Don't you get drunk?" she asked. "Don't you fly off the handle once in a while?"
"What do you want me to be?" Theismann replied. "My public image is my private image."
But that is too much to believe. He is so programmed, so intent on staying above controversy that controversy results. He claims, for example that he won't watch a sad movie because he doesn't like depressing things. Sure Joe. Maybe that's why people will come up to him on the street and tell him point blank that they don't like him, although "they think I'm a heck of a football player." He says he has great confidence in his ability, and that can sometimes be construed as cocky. "But what people think doesn't bother me enough to change."
You'll never read stories about Theismann being picked up for speeding or being caught drunk in public. He'll have a beer or two with the boys, but never enough to risk embarrassment. There are too many things to protect. He has that handsome family -- an attractive, blond wife whom he met at Notre Dame and three children -- a newly purchased home, all those flourishing business ventures.
Not that he hasn't made mistakes. He once rapped Allen during a guest appearance. When the criticisms made the paper, he soon found himself in Allen's office, explaining his rash act. When the price of silver fell dramatically earlier this year, Theismann bailed out a little too late. "I got nicked," he says, although it could have been worse, "It's a bad habit of mine," he said.
And there was once an intense dislike for him on the Redskin team. But now, after his glorious past season in which he finally proved he was a quality pro quarterback, the negative feelings have turned into ones of respect and tolerance. He's too brash to be well-liked, but he is too good to be despised.
"I knew there were guys on the team who wanted me to fall flat on my face last year," he said. "That's why it was doubly important that I succeed. . . . I've been blessed with some fine skills, but I think I've also labored a long time to put those skills to their best use possible."
Joe Theismann was made for TV. His looks, his glib personality, his articulateness, his ability to put people at ease. All are ideal for the tube. And Theismann hasn't wasted any time molding a future for himself in front of the studio cameras.
Nor has television missed the chance to utilize him. He has had an exclusive $25,000-a-year contract with Channel 7 for the last four years to do sports commentary. Now he also appears on a regular off-season basis as a cohost on the same station's "Good Morning, Washington" show. Depending on the number of appearances he makes, he could earn $20,000 or more from this assignment.
Channel 7, according to executive producer Bill Cosmas, couldn't be more pleased with Theismann's work. Nor could Cosmas be more enthusiastic about Theismann's TV future.
"He communicates very well on the air, and he has an important element of curiosity," Cosmas said. "But just as important, he has an honest desire to learn techniques of the business. He isn't just a jock basking in the spotlight.
"If he ever wants to, he'd make an excellent living as a commentator. He has the Donahue openness, curiosity and frankness. He pays attention to the people he's interviewing."
It is vitally important to Theismann that he succeeds in television. He has become sufficiently engrossed in the business to want to make it his life's work -- after his football career ends, of course. And he doesn't want to risk embarassing himself on camera, as so many other ill-prepared athletes have done.
"When a lot of guys leave the game of football," he says, they haven't spent the time in television they should and they go in thinking they will have the same stature as when they left the game.
"But you can't approach either TV or movie people on the same level. What you have to do is go in with a willingness to learn and an understanding that yes, you are in their element now and not yours. If you go in with that attitude and start at the bottom and work your way up, they accept you a lot easier."
Despite his natural affinity for sports, Theismann deliberately sought to appear on a nonsports program. "I want to learn the hosting and news element of TV," he says. "I didn't know if doing weekend sports on the news program was the right way to go." He began his "Good Morning, Washington" appearances with day-after-the-game segments. Then he substituted while then cohost Ed Walker went on vacation.
Finally, Cosmas asked him to cohost as much as he could in the off-season. He fit in three months the past spring, around vacations to Puerto Rico, Florida and London and appearances in the Super Stars competition, in which he earned $23,000.
"I don't profess to be a reader, but what the show did was get me to prepare myself," Theismann said. "It was a real education for me. If we were going to have an author on, I'd try to read the book over a two-to-three night period. Usually, I'd go home and put on a television set. Now I'll go home and pick up a book. It really has changed my life. Now I can sit down and talk politics, things like that, with people."
He also can get his hand stuck in a chicken while trying to stuff the slippery fowl, as happened one morning. Or he can mess up messages while reading off the teleprompter, as he does occasionally. But he also can sit down with such wide-ranging figures as Marvin Hamlisch or Ted Kennedy and not embarrass himself.
"It's just a natural gift," said one rival TV sports personality. "Joe's got it. He's a hot property, but you have to admire him -- he's working at it. He's gotten better. There is no reason why he shouldn't go on to doing national TV work when he retires."
Retirement. Theismann has thought about it, but only infrequently. After a half-decade of playing behind Billy Kilmer, he is just blossoming into a full-fledged NFL star. His first season as a starter last year was a stunning success. He was ranked second statistically among all the quarterbacks in the league and almost guided his surprising team into the playoffs. The question that once surrounded him -- Is he all talk and no talent? Will he mess up his long-sought starting chance? -- have disappeared. In their place have emerged glowing praise of his guts and performance under pressure. Some Redskin coaches even predict greatness for him.
"I feel fine physically and I have a lot to learn" he said. "I'll see where I am at the age of 35. That's five more years for me. I'll take a look then at what my outside activities are, what kind of shape I'm in, and I'll evaluate it then."
Theismann wants what he calls "a life after football." He says he's seen too many athletes retire and then say, "I want to try this or that." He's determined not to make that mistake. "I try not to take anything away from my football or my family, but if I can assure myself the possibility of having a career after football, I am. That's why I'm involved so heavily in TV. The only way to learn that business is to go out and do it. Then when I say I'd like to be maybe a cohost or a commentator after I retire, people will know I'm serious. I don't want anyone laughing at me."
Another training camp. It's hot and horribly humid in Carlisle, Pa. But Theismann, Captain Bubbly of the Redskins, still is wound up. Want an interview? Sure. Want me to sign an autograph? Sure. Want me to talk to team owner Jack Kent Cooke? Sure. Theismann is wearing a burgundy football jersey with the familiar No. 7 across its front and back. The Very Distinguished Football Player.
He is riding a wave of lucky 7s. "It's my uniform number; the restaurant is on Route 7; I work for Channel 7. This is my seventh year in the league, so I guess that means we'll win the Super Bowl. It's like a big script has been written and everything is falling into place."
And how many millions of dollars does that script say he will earn in his lifetime?
"I think," he says with a big smile on that well-tanned face, "that is one segment that hasn't been finished. At least, not yet."