Joe Theismann had been waiting nine years to make the Pro Bowl. And when his dream officially came true yesterday, he said it was the "best personal feeling" he has had as a football player. Yet he had reason not to be completely happy.
One of his closest friends on the Redskins, defensive tackle Dave Butz, was left off the National Football Conference team, an omission that angered both Theismann and many of his teammates.
"It's very difficult to say how someone else feels, but I think I know Dave well enough to be able to do it," said Theismann, who made the team along with receiver Charlie Brown, strong safety Tony Peters, kicker Mark Moseley and kick returner Mike Nelms. It was the Redskins' largest Pro Bowl contingent since 1972, when they went to their only Super Bowl.
"Everyone feels Dave should have made it and he's really disappointed," Theismann said of Butz, who has been having what his coaches say is his finest season in 10 years as a pro. "For what reason he didn't, why he didn't, those are all questions you don't know the answer to. He definitely is that caliber of player. And Art Monk is, too. I just don't try to understand these things anymore."
Theismann, who will start for the NFC, reflected the mood among the players at Redskin Park yesterday. They were happy for the players who were selected by votes from the league's players and coaches. But they were upset that a team with the NFL's best record couldn't place more than five players in the all-star game.
"I was disappointed," said Coach Joe Gibbs, carefully choosing his words. "I'm happy for the guys who were selected but I'm disappointed for the ones who weren't. A lot of people have worked very hard and to not be picked is a shame.
"It was a short season and the fact that we've had a lot of people just dismiss us up to now has had something to do with it. We just have to keep winning and the recognition will come . . . I haven't talked to the team about it yet, but I probably will.
"I tell them that it definitely is a big improvement from last year, when we had only one guy (Nelms). That is a reflection on our team, that we gained some recognition, yet the fact we didn't have more than that with the best record in the NFC is an indication that we still have a ways to go as far as gaining the respect we want around the NFC."
Gibbs refused to name any Redskins he thought should have been selected, although he mentioned he was "extremely disappointed" that no offensive or defensive linemen were honored. The coaches had thought that Butz and an offensive lineman, probably Russ Grimm, who has graded out the best this season, would get enough votes. And there was hope that Monk and fullback John Riggins would be honored.
League sources said that both Butz and Riggins came close to making the team, and each is an alternate in case a player at his position is injured.
Butz obviously was annoyed that he was left off the team. But he refused comment, saying that he no longer was going "to talk to anybody (reporters)," although the media did not select the Pro Bowl participants. Before he left the park, he and Gibbs talked briefly.
This is the second Pro Bowl trip for Moseley, who is having a superb season that makes him a candidate for the league's most valuable player award. And Nelms, who has a thigh pull which he said yesterday almost certainly will prevent him from playing Sunday against St. Louis, has made the Pro Bowl three straight seasons.
But for Brown, Theismann and Peters, seeing their name on the all-star list along with the likes of John Jefferson, James Lofton, Tony Dorsett, Randy White, Lawrence Taylor and Lee Roy Selmon was a unique thrill.
"I came out this year and played hard and tried to get some kind of recognition," said Peters, whose aggressive tackling has helped revitalize the defense. "I had high hopes, but considering the short season, I still was surprised. It's my most satisfying accomplishment, that and making the playoffs. I was tired of losing after winning so much in college (at Oklahoma)."
A year ago, Brown, a 1981 eighth-round draft choice, was finishing off a depressing rookie year on injured reserve, recovering from a bad knee. Now, with a sensational season in which he has eight touchdown catches, he is the only first-year player to make the NFC squad.
"When I was a senior in college, I wasn't selected to play in the Sheridan all-star game, the game for black players from schools like South Carolina State," he said. "That really hurt me, because I thought I deserved it. Now to get this honor, I look back and hope the people see they made a mistake.
"Things have really changed in a year. I'm very, very happy, but I try not to get overjoyed. I never thought I got the recognition in high school or college that I deserved. I'm just lucky now that I'm on the right team, so things finally are breaking my way."
Theismann is the Redskins' first Pro Bowl quarterback since Billy Kilmer in 1972. In 1979, when Theismann was the NFC's No. 2-rated passer, he was "tremendously disappointed" that he wasn't chosen. This time, he said, he tried to keep his expectations under control.
"I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't want it," he said, "but after 1979, I figured what happens, happens. This is a tremendous feeling. Every athlete sets a personal goal to be the best at his position, and when you are chosen by your peers, it has a lot of meaning to it. And I think it's representative of our football team, because the quarterback is the most dependent position on the team."