Quarterback Joe Theismann chose not to retire, preferring instead to be placed on waivers today by the Washington Redskins, ending a celebrated 12-year career that included the only Super Bowl victory in the history of the franchise.

Theismann, who broke his right leg in a nationally televised game against the New York Giants last November, will join CBS-TV as a pro football analyst this fall, a job that will pay him $185,000 this year, according to sources familiar with his network contract.

By not retiring of his own accord, and trying a comeback that was halted in the past week when he failed to pass a physical, Theismann becomes eligible to collect on a $1.4 million career-ending injury policy from Lloyd's of London.

Theismann, who would have made about $1.2 million if he had been on the Redskins' active roster all season, is expected to discuss his plans publicly next week. In his last bit of scrambling as a Redskin, he could not be reached for comment today.

"He needs time to think about what to say," Cathy Lee Crosby, Theismann's fiance, said this afternoon.

"He will probably say something Tuesday or Wednesday. My stepfather died and we were at the funeral today. . . . He would talk , but right now, the family takes precedence. . . . Things are real uncomfortable right now," she said.

This morning, Theismann and Crosby met for three hours with team owner Jack Kent Cooke at Cooke's Middleburg, Va., estate to discuss the inevitable: his leaving the Redskins.

A few hours later, 30 months and three days after his last Super Bowl appearance, Theismann's name was placed on the National Football League's standard waiver wire, sent by TWX message to NFL headquarters in New York, Cooke said.

According to NFL rules, if another team does not sign Theismann by 4 p.m. Saturday, he will be a free agent.

By being waived, Theismann would receive either half his salary or $65,000, whatever is lower (in Theismann's case, it will be the $65,000) because he was injured last season and failed his physical this season.

If another NFL team picks up Theismann off waivers, which is extremely unlikely, that team would be required to pay his salary or the $65,000 if he couldn't play.

Theismann's release or retirement had been expected this summer when it became apparent his broken right leg was not healing as quickly as had been originally thought. Theismann was unable to pass a physical examination and therefore cannot play for the Redskins.

"It was a pleasant discussion and as friendly as ever," Cooke said of the meeting.

Afterward, Cooke announced in a most unusual way that Theismann was being placed on waivers: he wrote a letter to the 36-year-old quarterback.

"Since your doctors tell me that your leg has not mended properly; that you should not play again, I have urged you to retire," Cooke wrote. "In your usual few thousand words, you say no. . . . You refuse to be dissuaded from the only alternative to retirement, namely, you insist on being put on waivers.

"You've made your decision. You're pleased with it, you say, and I am, well, only sort of pleased. To me, retirement is the right route, but you've cast your die for this waiver. So, considering the enormously pleasant, profitable and winning career you, the Redskins and I have enjoyed together, I give in to your wish."

Theismann's insurance policy with Lloyd's was taken out two years ago to cover a career-ending injury. It is believed that in order to obtain his money, he had to go to great lengths to prove he had attempted a comeback before leaving the game.

Retirement, which would have appeared to have been Theismann's decision, presumably could have had a negative effect on his chances for getting his insurance money. Being waived, which means the Redskins supposedly made the decision, likely will help him collect on the policy.

It is believed Theismann cannot file a claim with Lloyd's of London until a year after the injury, which took place Nov. 18, 1985, at RFK Stadium, on a tackle by linebacker Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants.

Theismann, who was in the middle of what he said was his "worst" season when he was injured, was replaced by Jay Schroeder, now the team's No. 1 quarterback.

"We all know we're going to miss Joe Theismann," Coach Joe Gibbs said before afternoon practice at the Redskins' Dickinson College training camp. "I know I'm going to miss him. The thing I'll remember about him as a player is not so much the two Super Bowls he led us to, but when we went 0-5 in 1981 , the way he hung in there when things were tough."

General Manager Bobby Beathard said he thought the Redskins' two Super Bowl appearances -- a 27-17 victory over Miami in the 1982 season and a 38-9 loss to the Los Angeles Raiders in the 1983 season -- "would not have been possible without Theismann at the helm."

Said Gibbs: "He led us to someplace that nobody else has."

Cooke said Theismann's waiver "is one of the friendliest ever reached between an owner and a player; and for all I know, perhaps the only friendly one on record."

Last March, the Redskins waived veteran running back John Riggins after Riggins announced publicly that he had been "fired" by the team. The resulting confusion turned into a public relations nightmare for the Redskins.

Team officials had been hoping to avoid a similar situation with Theismann by having him retire, which would have allowed them to turn a news conference announcing his retirement into a celebration of his highly publicized career.

But Theismann didn't want any part of it.

Four days after he was carried off the field, his leg broken, Theismann spoke to reporters from a wheelchair last November.

"This is not the way I envision saying goodbye to the game of football," he said, with tears in his eyes.

But, in the end, it was.

Said Cooke in his letter: "On the field, you never let down. You were always up, up, up; undeniably cocky, gutsy and one of those rare guys whose reach exceeded his grasp. . . . To Redskins fans, to the club and to me personally, your record bears proof of your sterling accomplishments.

"They'll be hard to beat, Joe."