I miss him already. I'd grown accustomed to his voice. It always made the day begin. I'd grown accustomed to the way he chattered every day. His north, his south, his arm, his mouth.

Is he really gone?

Say it ain't so, Joe.

It's a lousy way to go out, his leg not healed, and the waiving a necessary ruse to placate the insurers. He deserves better. A chance to go onto the field one more time and finish the dance in style. A last hurrah.

Close your eyes and tell me you can't see him in that single-bar helmet of his, with the lamp-black under his eyes, throwing touchdown passes to Charlie Brown, holding for Mark Moseley, handing off to Riggins, blocking on reverses, selling Igloo coolers.

He was a Great quarterback. That should go without saying. If you need any proof of it, check his record. In his prime, dating from the Redskins stumbling to the 0-5 start in 1981, he led them to 46-13 through four seasons, including two Super Bowls. The greatness is indisputable.

And what else? An absolutely hellacious competitor, and cocky and gutsy and spirited and loud and self-absorbed; my, but he was self-absorbed. But never boring. He and Riggins were of a finer weave, weren't they? Great and never boring. Both gone. Both waived.

The ones you miss most are the Joe Theismanns, the Reggie Jacksons and the Julius Ervings, the ones with the good grace and sense to say hello before it's time to say goodbye, the ones who take the spotlight naturally because their talents make them worthy and their personalities give them comfort there.

Theismann never was more alive than when all eyes were on him. He wouldn't have fit in with the Hogs or the Fun Bunch. He wasn't a loner, but he worked best as a single. A media star in a media city. Never met a microphone he didn't like. The amazing thing was, he was sincere. And he never passed up a fan with an autograph book. You can poke fun at him -- and I have, and I am -- but give him that: He was better with the fans than anyone. He coveted their love, and never failed to return it.

Thank heaven he'll still be on TV. Can you imagine what life would be like without Joe Theismann on TV? His two Super Bowls he was on TV so much I thought he was a miniseries. His savviest comment came in response to the notion that football players might get distracted by the hype. He said, "You've got to keep it all in prospectus." Yo, Sigmund, is the check in the mail, or what?

He did "Today." He did "Tonight." He'd have done "Next Wednesday" if there was one. He was all-world media. Joe was interviewed on Channels 4, 5, 7 and 9 every night for a week and brought different clothes for each channel each night. He was named man of the year by both the National Association of Sportscasters and GQ.

Can he talk? You know Evinrude stocks the "Joe Theismann Outboard." We're talking noise here. On the phone, he'll do 15 minutes on a wrong number, and he's just clearing his throat. When you reach out and touch Joe, bring lunch.

Remember in May of 1984 when he announced he wasn't going to speak to the media all season long? His explanation alone for why he was doing it took up eight paragraphs. The next day, stock prices for Bic, Weyerhauser and Memorex plummeted, and the Secretary of Commerce phoned to ask Joe to reconsider.

Did you know he once had four agents? Four. One for contracts. One for his personal appearances and speaking engagements. One for commercial endorsements. (Remember his Holiday Spa ad, the highlight film of his body?) And another for Hollywood. I can see it now: Joe and Cathy Lee in a remake of "White Christmas," with Cathy Lee as Bing and Joe as everybody else.

Joe should have his own talk show. He could come on in the morning and discuss in detail his personal agenda for that afternoon. No guests. Why would he need guests? His entire life has been one long audition tape, anyway (available on eight-track and video, with additional chorale music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir). He's writing his autobiography. Here's a possible title: "I'm OK, I'm OK. Seriously, I'm OK. Well, The Leg's Still Not 100 Percent. Let Me Tell You About It. I've Got Time. You Got Time? Your Tape Recorder Working? You Need A Voice Level? Testing One, Two, Three . . . "

Having said all that, let me say this: I love Joe Theismann. Not for the football; I admire that. I love the guy because I'm a sportswriter, and there was never anybody better for sportswriters. Sportswriters absolutely, positively have to love Joe Theismann. For the chatter. For the fact that win or lose he always was around to answer questions. (Even when he was officially not talking in 1984, he was still talking to reporters on a source basis.) Just like on the field, he gave you his best shot all the time. It didn't matter where you were from. The guy from the 500-watt radio station in Poolesville got as good an effort and as fresh a set of quotes as Brent got on CBS. Joe did the AMs, the PMs, the weeklies and all the ships at sea. We may not hear his like again, and wasn't it fun while it lasted?