I really hate to say this, but what the heck, a father's allowed. It's just a fact that my son Joe Theismann was a star the very first year he played football.

He was 10 years old, and pretty small for his age. We lived in South River, N,J., a few blocks from the field, and he was always over there watching the kids in practice with the Pop Warner team. He'd pick up a football and throw it around, and the coaches recruited him on the spot.

Of course, Joe's mother didn't want him to play and get hurt. She kept refusing until, finally, three of the coaches came to the house. They explained the safety factors, the kind of equipment they used, and she finally went along.

Joe was the quarterback right from the start. The coach was a fella named Ray Mazeroski. Every night after he'd come home from work he'd be over at the field with the kids. He had two assistants, volunteers. I believe all of them are still there. Ray played some high school football, and I think if he'd played in college, he'd probably be a high school or college coach by now, he was that good.

Now he wasn't a screamer, or anything like that. And he let all the little fellas play. Oh, sure, we had a lot of parents who thought their kids should be playing more, but I wasn't one of them.

I had one policy. I'd watch the practices and go to the games, but I never said anything. There were some things I didn't like, but Ray was the coach on the field, and I was in charge when Joey got home.

I tell other parents even now not to interfere. Here these guys are devoting all their time to coaching, so why should we interfere? Anyway, 90 percent of the parents use these things as glorified baby sitters. And that's wrong, too. My wife and I were always there. Toby even sold hot dogs to help raise money.

Joe never really got seriously hurt playing in Pop Warner. He'd get a sprained ankle or a bruised elbow, but nothing that really was much of a problem. My wife was always concerned about him, still is to this day.

From my viewpoint, organized football is a fine thing for kids. If they like it, don't discourage them. And I know as he grew up, my son never ran the streets. He was always at the field or in the gym, and if he wasn't there, he'd be in his room doing his schoolwork.

I can also say we never really had any problems with any of the little leagues Joe played in. He was in the basketball league and baseball, too, but all his coaches were real good. Maybe we were just lucky. Of course, if somebody had tried to curse him or sllap him around like you hear about, I'd have stepped right in. But with Joe, it never happened.

Joe loved it. He took that Pop Warner team to two straight undefeated seasons. He was part of some great teams in junior high and high school, too. sHe loved sports right from the start, and that's never changed. We're real proud of the way things turned out. But to tell you the truth, I've never been that surprised. Like I said, it's a fact. He was a star right from the start.