Joe Theismann said today he still would like to play football again "if a miracle does occur," and his new contract with CBS-TV would allow him to do that.
"Based on what I know to be reality, I don't think it's going to happen," the 36-year-old said in a telephone interview after a media conference call. "If it does, it belongs in the same category as walking on water."
Theismann, the quarterback who broke his right leg last November and was placed on waivers Friday by the Washington Redskins, said he refused to retire because he wants "to give the leg a chance to heal" before he tells himself his 12-year National Football League career is over.
"In all my physical exams, the bone was nowhere near healed," he said. "Will that bone come back to any degree? I'm willing to wait and see. I'd like to give it the full opportunity to let that happen before I announce my retirement."
The structure of his contract with CBS, he said, would allow him "to go back to the game" if he can play. Theismann, who has a deal believed to be worth $185,000 this season, will work with announcer Jack Buck as an analyst on pro football telecasts. Theismann said he hopes to test his leg in October or November, a year after the injury, to see how it's doing.
In his first public comment since he was waived, Theismann said his $1.4 million insurance policy from Lloyd's of London covering a career-ending injury -- which was believed to figure in his decision to be waived -- "is not anybody's business."
"Let's just say because of my job . . . and because of the possibility of injury, I took out an insurance policy. My decision to be waived or to retire had nothing to do with it. It has to do with a doctor making the decision when it would be healed. If the Redskins could have waited a year, I would have probably said, 'Okay, I'll retire at that time.' But the Redskins had to make a decision when they did."
Theismann, who suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula in a game against the New York Giants, said the tibia is the problem.
"The bone is a tubular shape, but I don't have a tube," he said. "I have half a cylinder. What the doctors are really afraid of is that my spikes will get caught in the ground and I'll pivot and snap it.
"The thought of getting hit with 600 pounds of football players on my back -- it wouldn't hold up. I can't play right now. . . . I can't play golf, racquetball or tennis."
As for the long wait before a decision was made, Theismann said: "Look, I took it as long as I could. I wanted to play it out. . . . I was encouraged by great progress early on. Then, after about seven months, instead of progressing in time periods of days or weeks, it progresses in three-month time periods."
Finally, he said, "you have to accept reality. My ambition is to lead a normal life. Golf. Hey, nobody hits you in golf unless you hit a tree and the ball hits you in the head. To translate to the game of football, the bottom line is to get to the quarterback. Playing now is not realistic."
Team owner Jack Kent Cooke announced Theismann's departure in a letter written to Theismann. Theismann, not known for being quiet, didn't say a word about it until today. Was he bitter?
"Absolutely not," he said. "I left the game of football the way I chose. . . . I think the way it transpired was the best way possible to do it. Being in front of the cameras, with all the hoopla, I didn't really want to do it that way. This way was my way. I went through the back door."
Theismann, who negotiated his contracts directly with Cooke, had nothing but praise for the owner.
"Jack and I have had a very unique relationship," he said. "He has been very fair to me. . . . I went to Mr. Cooke after the 1983 season, and he said he would 'do this, do this and do this for you.' We never negotiated.I just said, 'Thank you.' "
Theismann confirmed Cooke's earlier statements that the owner wanted him to retire but said Cooke had "prepared something for me in either case."
Added Theismann: "There is no bitterness, absolutely not. Not to the Redskins and especially not to the fans. We've had a very unique relationship. The people have booed me as loud as you can be booed and they've cheered me as loud as you can be cheered. I'd rather have it that way than to play in a stadium where people sat on their hands."
Theismann, who said he is "a Redskin fan now," singled out two men instrumental in his career.
"Joe Walton as Redskins offensive coordinator taught me the fundamentals and Coach Joe Gibbs put me in a system that allowed me to do what Joe Walton told me.
"I love Joe Gibbs."
Theismann said two moments will stand alone when he remembers his playing days: the victory over Dallas in the 1982 NFC championship game, and the ensuing Super Bowl.
Of the Dallas game, he said: "I get goose bumps thinking about it, like it's in a bubble, or just up there in time. I've never stood in a place and felt the stadium shake. . . . The only feeling that compares to it was when I was in California last month and the earthquake hit."
And Super Bowl XVII? "The thing I regret more than anything else was not being a part of that parade in Washington after the Super Bowl," said Theismann, who flew directly from California to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. "That's the greatest thing I ever saw. . . . To share that with so many thousands of people, that would have been great."
Theismann said this has been an emotional week. "Every time I hit Route 15 near his house , the car wants to go left toward training camp . It's a different feeling. I go through peaks and valleys. I'll be out in the woods, riding a horse, and I'll look at my watch. 'Hey, they're in a meeting now, they're going on the field, MayDay offensive tackle Mark May, Theismann's good friend wants me to come play gin.'
"Every day is a new experience for me, with one constant -- I still can't run."
On the social front, Theismann said he and Cathy Lee Crosby will get married "before June of next year." He will keep his home in Leesburg, Va.; she will keep hers in the Los Angeles area.
He apparently will have the same life style, only a different job.