A decade ago, a reporter told former Washington Redskins guard Ray Schoenke that he was doing a story on quarterback Joe Theismann.
"Of course you're writing about Joe," Schoenke said. "Why not? The next king. Long live the king."
Joe Theismann ruled his world for about a decade. Before being waived yesterday, he had one of the most widely chronicled careers in professional sports history, thanks in large part to Theismann himself.
From a name-pronounciation change while at Notre Dame (rhyme Theismann with Heisman), to playing in Canada for three years after college, to the wait on the bench in Washington, to the Super Bowls (one good, one bad), to the divorce, to the broken leg, to the inevitable retirement, Theismann never strayed far from a microphone or a camera lens. He had the arm. He also had the mouth.
"Some people say I'm egotistical. I say I'm self-confident. It's a fine line," he said in 1975.
And: "Cockiness is an essential part of a quarterback. You can't walk into a huddle and say, 'Well, I think I can get this done.' If I talk like that, who the hell's going to follow me?"
In 1982, he quarterbacked the only Redskins team to win a Super Bowl. In his career, he threw for more yards (25,206) than any quarterback in Redskins history.
Although Sonny Jurgensen and Sammy Baugh still hold many team passing records, Theismann was known for his ability to rise to the occasion. His postseason statistics were superb: a 61 percent completion percentage and a 91.5 quarterback rating (his regular-season rating was 77.4, 16th on the all-time list, just above Miami's Bob Griese).
He also is the only Redskins quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his career.
But the story of Joe Theismann is much more than numbers. It's not always easy to pack a 15-year career (12 years here, three in the Canadian Football League) into mothballs. Especially in this case. The boxes are overflowing. There is plenty to remember, including: That he changed the pronunciation of his last name from Theesman to Thighsman (as in Heisman, as in Trophy), but still finished second in the balloting to Stanford's Jim Plunkett in 1970. That his last play, the one he broke his leg on, was a trick play, a flea-flicker, in which John Riggins tossed him the ball. That he was admittedly having his worst season when he was injured.
"This is not the way I envision saying goodbye to the game of football," he said four days after he broke his leg.
But in the end, that was something Theismann, who always wanted to be in control, could not orchestrate.
As a kid in South River, N.J., Theismann didn't waste much time on school. "Football was the best thing that ever happened to me because I was a rebel as a kid, hated to study, and got in trouble."
More than 100 colleges were after him to play football. At first, Theismann said, he thought he would make a decision to match the football uniform to his blue eyes. He chose Duke, but Duke didn't choose him. His grades weren't good enough.
So he visited Notre Dame, fell in love with the place, and signed up.
As a sophomore, his first college pass, against Southern Cal, was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. But he led the Irish to a 21-3-1 record in the games he played, including an upset over top-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl his senior year.
Theismann was selected in the fourth round of the 1971 NFL draft by Miami and decided to act as his own agent. But, after a verbal agreement with the Dolphins, he got into a verbal disagreement over a bonus and bolted to the Toronto Argonauts.
In his first season, the Argonauts went to the Grey Cup, the CFL Super Bowl, and lost. Theismann broke his leg in the first game of the next season and didn't play for nine games. He played one more season and then began looking south.
The Dolphins traded Theismann's rights to the Redskins for a No. 1 draft choice. On March 1, 1974, at 24, Theismann signed a three-year contract with Washington.
"He'll have to be patient," said Coach George Allen, looking over a roster that included Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer.
"Patience is a virtue," Theismann responded.
By 1977, he was through waiting and out of patience. "To hell with the learning process," he said. He wanted to play. He had asked to be traded, he had shared time with Kilmer and he had had a contract squabble, the first of three with Redskins management.
"I don't play for George Allen," Theismann said. "I stopped playing for George Allen two years ago because I can't play for someone who treats me that way."
In 1978, Allen was fired and Jack Pardee was hired. Theismann was named starting quarterback and led Washington to a 6-0 start, but when the team lost its next two games, the Kilmer-Theismann shuffle was on. Then, in 1979, Kilmer was released, and the job was Theismann's for good.
In 1981, Coach Joe Gibbs arrived. Theismann, by now a talkative superstar, reveled in the thought of working for an offensive-minded coach.
The team went 8-8 that first year but the next two seasons were glorious. In 1982, Theismann led the Redskins to an 8-1 record. He was the top-rated quarterback in the NFC, with 64 percent passing, 13 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. His team won the Super Bowl, 27-17, over Miami; he started the Pro Bowl.
His 1983 season was even better: the Redskins scored an NFL-record 541 points and went 14-2, and he was voted a Pro Bowl starter and the NFL's most valuable player.
But his fortunes shifted on one play: a screen pass intercepted by Jack Squirek of the Los Angeles Raiders at the end of the first half of Super Bowl XVIII, won by the Raiders, 38-9.
"There are no excuses," he said.
In 1984 and 1985, as Theismann went, so went the Redskins. His statistics dropped slightly in 1984, then the Chicago Bears sacked him seven times in a 23-19 playoff upset of the Redskins, and the season was ignominiously over.
It will be an unfortunate memory that he played worst in his last season. He threw five interceptions in a 44-14 season-opening loss to Dallas on his 36th birthday, had a one-yard emergency punt in a 45-10 loss at Chicago and was constantly on the defensive until the evening of Nov. 18, at RFK Stadium.
He had been remarkably resilient as a professional, suffering that broken leg his second season in Canada, but little else. But when his leg snapped in one of the most memorable -- and graphic -- sports injuries ever shown on national television, his career was over.
He said he didn't know that then. Later, during his rehabilitation, he signed a lucrative contract, received a $1 million signing bonus and even shopped himself around the league. But the Redskins already had told him that 25-year-old Jay Schroeder was their man, and he began to face life without football, which, for Joe Theismann, really doesn't look too bad at all. He has several restaurants, is a popular public speaker, has a number of investments and will work as a color commentator for CBS-TV.
Perhaps, though, he knew his career was over as soon as his right leg snapped, but just didn't want to believe it. At his hospital news conference last November, Theismann was asked if his luck had run out.
"I don't think my luck ran out," he answered. "Maybe my luck just began. It gives me a chance to start another chapter of my life."