The portrait of Joe Theismann should look something like this: a football cradled in his right hand and a microphone in his left. Or watching for the next play from his coach with one eye and for the next deal from his agent with the other.

Hang it in the Touchdown Club. Burn it in the mind of every athlete who dreams of a pro career, with the caption: Get all that sport allows as quickly as you can, for in an instant -- snap! -- it may be over.

Probably, Theismann will be undervalued as a quarterback and overrated as a salesman. With the possible exception of Fran Tarkenton, nobody was better at the football pitch and business catch.

Always in a hurry to get somewhere, always available to nearly anyone who could be even remotely helpful, Theismann has read himself as well as any defense: a little boy at heart, very good at a little boy's game.

Craving attention, Theismann made sure the customers knew exactly who threw the wonderful pass that fetched glory in the end zone by dashing upfield and jumping into his receiver's arms.

John Unitas would have shaved his head at midfield before showing such emotion. Same with Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer, who also figured that a pro ought to act as though he'd gotten his team six points before and would shortly do it again.

Sometimes foolish, Theismann is no fool. He wrote a how-to book about quarterback before throwing his first NFL pass. While a second-string punt returner for the Redskins, he allowed his name to be put on a restaurant. He made his first public speech, at a communion breakfast, as an 18-year-old sophomore at Notre Dame. He wasn't Catholic.

All that was an advance on ability, Theismann reasoned, correctly. If he wasn't close to being as good as he thought, Theismann was close enough to deliver the ultimate bottom line: His teams routinely won.

Theismann has most of the important Redskins passing records -- and a Super Bowl ring -- but Jurgensen has the town's heart. Theismann also lagged far behind John Riggins in style points.

For all of his 2,044 Redskins completions, the play for which Theismann may be best remembered was the time he broke up one of his own passes. What it did was win Super Bowl XVII.

The scene: Miami leading by 17-13 late in the third quarter, the Redskins with first down on their 17-yard line. Theismann's pass is tipped by linebacker Kim Bokamper, who also appears ready to control the ball and scoot into the end zone.

In a flicker, Theismann has the presence to knock the ball away.

If Bokamper had scored, Miami's 24-13 lead would have been very difficult to overcome. Theismann threw as many interceptions as touchdown passes that game: two.

"He's got to be the luckiest guy in the world on that play," said the Dolphins' Bob Baumhower, who was ready to hug Bokamper and the Vince Lombardi Trophy before Theismann got his hand in the way.

Theismann saved the game; Riggins eventually won it with the famous 43-yard touchdown on fourth-and-a-foot. Riggins said he was "king" that night; Theismann made off with more of the Super Bowl spoils.

"For example," Theismann said not long after the experience, "we were taping the pilot to a new television series which I was hosting, 'America's Heroes: The Athlete's Chronicles.' I did my radio show in Washington Friday morning, then flew to Phoenix to speak that night.

"Then I went to L.A. on Saturday, where we taped all day in places like the Coliseum. Then Saturday night I caught a redeye back to D.C. to do a Best store opening Sunday. Monday, I did the radio show, flew to Phoenix for another speaking engagement and then went to L.A. on Tuesday to finish the rest of the show. I flew back home on Wednesday, went to a meeting and then to an appearance on Thursday . . .

"I doubt very seriously if anyone alive will ever enjoy the opportunities of winning a Super Bowl like I have."

Early on with the Redskins, Theismann's was a disco beat on an offense that preferred the minuet. So anxious to please, he frustrated teammates and coaches with free-lance scrambles that usually ended in lost ground that seemed most accurately measured in acres.

Finally, Joe Walton reined him in. They were a fine team, the patient offensive coordinator for Jack Pardee's late-'70s teams and the quarterback who realized the 10 other guys were there to help him instead of the other way around.

There is nothing quite so stirring in football as a passer in full command of his wits and his arm. For Theismann, those moments seemed to stretch through the entire 1982 season and the Super Bowl. The only interruption was a strike he helped make profitable by organizing informal practices.

Jurgensen at his best had three of the finest receivers in the history of football. Theismann at his best often was completing long-distance passes to ordinary receivers he nicknamed Smurfs. Three went to Alvin Garrett against the Lions in the first round of the 1982 playoffs.

Unlike Riggins, Theismann very likely will not make the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has impressive stats, and the Redskins won nearly 80 percent of their games over four years with him as the quarterback.

He falls just short of being legendary. Theismann is not quite the man you'd want to squeeze a long pass between three defenders on third and long, even though he has done it quite a lot. You'd choose someone else to improvise a two-minute drill, even though Theismann also was adept at that.

One of the reasons Theismann may not get his proper due is his being slightly ahead of his time as an athlete/businessman. We know too much about him.

How can there be any mystique to an athlete who would not let anyone out of sight or sound for more than a few minutes a day? Or who figured a way to turn an endorsement buck while still on crutches?

Theismann's next career, as a television analyst, ought to be at least as successful as his last. The major requirement is talking, and he has had some practice.