The Redskins bade Joe Theismann farewell yesterday, but is farewell to the Redskins the same as goodbye to the NFL?
Not to George Allen. "I know Joe," said the former Redskins head coach, and the man who made the trade in 1974 that brought Theismann to Washington. "I believe if he gets his leg right, physically and mentally he could come back and play. Definitely, if I was coaching, I'd take him in a minute."
Among a dozen players and coaches reacting to the Redskins' decision to waive Theismann yesterday, Allen alone raised the prospect of a Theismann return.
"My own feeling is that this guy, if he gets his leg right, could still play," said Allen. "He's the kind of guy who could take a year off and still come back."
Allen said "nobody in the league" has more experience with aging veterans than he does. He mentioned his work with former over-the-hill Redskins Billy Kilmer, Len Hauss, Ron McDole and Pat Fischer. "Players like that, if they stay in reasonable shape, if they are handled properly and asked to do the things they can do, they can still play. I put Joe in that category, definitely," he said.
Elsewhere, players and coaches reminisced about Theismann's two Super Bowl appearances, his dramatic flair, his durability and verbosity and the wrenching injury that leveled him on Nov. 18 in RFK Stadium, when his right shin snapped like a twig beneath him.
"I'm sorry his career has to end that way," said former Redskins safety Mark Murphy. "He had a great career, but it's a shame that the lasting memory . . . will be that one play with Lawrence Taylor."
Theismann had played in 163 straight games before that moment. "That's the irony," said Murphy, "that somebody so injury-free would have his career end like that."
Even the archrival Dallas Cowboys had a nice thing or two to say, grudgingly. "He played you to the end, but he was a hot dog," said lineman Randy White, adding: "I won't miss chasing the little bugger around, the way he scrambled."
Said Dallas Coach Tom Landry: "Joe talks a lot, but at least he backs it up with what he does. I am sorry to see him go out this way with a bad leg. He's been a great competitor, and I don't know that Washington will be able to replace him too easily."
To hear his colleagues talk, Theismann's outgoing personality and his nonstop chatter were a mixed blessing, at best.
"You've got to understand he was the only guy to take us to two Super Bowls," said assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell. "Most of the records the Redskins have achieved, Joe was a part of, but I think people will try to take that from him because of his brashness.
"I think when people line up all the Redskins quarterbacks, they'll have a hard time putting Joe in front of them because of his personality. Billy Kilmer was no Joe Theismann in ability, but he was a leader, and people loved him to death for it. Sonny Jurgensen didn't have the winning record here that Joe had, but you can't rate Joe ahead of Sonny because no one threw the ball like Sonny."
Added Mitchell: "The people who will be kindest to Theismann are the guys who played with him."
Safety Ken Coffey: "He'll have two legacies. To the public, he'll be the brash, arrogant loudmouth. And to those who spent time around him, he'll be remembered as a nice, sensitive-type guy. He's still loud, but that was just his way. We all have friends who have personalities like Joe, and they are loved just as much. Anyone who has spent any amount of time around him likes him and wishes him the best."
Linebacker Rich Milot: "He's had a lot of ups and downs. That's because of his personality, but he was a great quarterback."
Murphy: "I think everyone on the team had respect for him, especially his competitiveness. He refused to lose, as much as anyone I've ever played with."
Offensive lineman Russ Grimm: "A lot of people had negative things to say about him, but I'm not one of them. If I had to pick a guy for my football team, I'd pick Joe T."
Dallas' Ed (Too Tall) Jones: "We're talking about a guy who, regardless of the score, would give you his all on every down until the last whistle. He seemed a great leader for his team."
Cowboys safety Dennis Thurman, when asked if Theismann's skills deteriorated last season before the injury, said: "The thing I saw was maybe the things he did off the field got in the way, because for three previous years he was unreal. . . . Maybe he just lost some of the fire he needed to play this game."
Allen doesn't think so. "He's strong for a quarterback," he said. "You don't lose that just because you're 39 or 40. Now, if he doesn't want to play, that's something else.
"But I know Joe . . . "
Staff writer Gary Pomerantz contributed to this report.