SAN DIEGO -- Somewhere in the middle of the 43rd Dan Reeves news conference I felt myself beginning to ice over. I'd been taking notes as Reeves said, "They give you four or five different packages, so we set up our packages accordingly, but I don't know, maybe the Redskins will come in with a completely different package." Looking down at those notes I wondered if Reeves had taken a part-time job at the Giant. I wandered over to where they were setting up the 67th John Elway news conference. There were 300 reporters waiting, some of whom may still have been alive. Elway began by saying, "We're looking at this as a must win for us." As he continued in this incisive vein, some people hurriedly left; others stared at him blankly as if watching a foreign movie and waiting for the subtitles to appear. I closed my eyes. When I opened them, Elway was still speaking, but only 20 reporters remained. Elway had virtually cleared the room. I had been an eyewitness to the first demonstration of human Glade.
From there it was on to the Redskins' news conference. I trust I'm not rattling the teacups with this, but the Redskins aren't exactly Bill Buckley and Gore Vidal either. Nor is their locker room the hotel bar at the Algonquin. I've had longer and more animated conversations with Teddy Ruxpin. "It's a very vanilla Super Bowl, isn't it?" Mark May said, reading my mind. "Nobody's calling anyone out. Everybody's brushing their teeth." May smiled gently, in pity and commiseration. I looked around the tent where the Redskins were doing their media chores to see who the stars were. Joe Jacoby, a fine, sweet man, but no George Jessel, was surrounded. They'd set up wary Darrell Green on a raised platform in a corner. Art Monk had a special platform, too. This is the best the Redskins can do? Give me a break! Art Monk, who says eight words a year, gets featured billing?
Something was wrong here, something was missing. But what? I went outside to clear my head, and I began to reconstruct Redskins Super Bowls in Los Angeles and Tampa. Quietly at first, but then bolder and stronger, like a clear light, a voice deep inside me repeatedly called out two words that would turn this Super Bowl into what it should be, two words that could make all the difference:
Absolutely, Joe Theismann.
Don't you remember his virtuoso performances in L.A. and Tampa? Others may have thought those were Super Bowls, but Joe turned them into mini-series. To Joe, Super Bowl week was just one extended audition tape.
He was the NFL's first triple threat media man: radio, TV, print. (He had his own newspaper, Joe Theismann's Redskin Report, making him the only athlete who could give himself an exclusive story.) He did it all. You leave a light on in the bathroom and he'd do 20 minutes to an empty shower. Never met a microphone he didn't like. Every night at 5, 6, 10 and 11 Joe did TV back to Washington. Every station. He was on TV all the time. (John Madden should live so long.) And Joe never wore the same outfit twice. When they ran the credits on Friday evening there was a line on each station that said "Mr. Theismann's wardrobe by . . . " Ladies and gentlemen, that's entertainment.
Joe didn't simply light up a room, first he'd fill it. He was doing turnaway in Tampa. They could have held him over for a month, "Phantom of The Opera" in a helmet. He could take either side of any issue; if you weren't on a pressing deadline and you had a lot of space to fill, he could take both sides. Need more? He'd call you in your room. You want to reach out and touch Joe, bring your lunch.
Oh, I miss him this week.
"If I was a reporter I'd miss him, too," Neal Olkewicz said.
"He was amazing," Darryl Grant said. "The rest of us would be twiddling our thumbs waiting for the hour to end, and Joe would be up there on stage doing encores."
"He could give you enough for a week," Terry Orr said, then corrected himself: "Two weeks."
Joey, Joey, Joey.
Reporters turn their empty pads to you. You're someone we need -- to borrow one of your phrases -- "to keep the game in prospectus."
"I had a lot of fun during Super Bowl Week," reminisced Theismann, always a good sport about all of this. "I enjoy the living daylights out of interviews."
He's here you know. Yes, he is. I talked to him briefly the other day -- on the phone for an hour and a quarter; imagine how long he'd have gone if he liked me. Joe said he didn't miss the game anymore. "Last year, yes, but two years out I can truthfully say I don't miss it. I tested myself two weeks ago. I went on the field at RFK before the Minnesota game, the first time I'd done that. I walked all around, picturing so many things that had happened to me there. I wanted to see if I missed it, if I was mad at not playing anymore? I finally reconciled. The game is behind me now, it belongs to other people."
But the Super Bowl, Joe? One last, stunning media blitz?
He laughed. "You're dying, aren't you? . . . No, seriously, I loved it. I took a big bite out of it. But it's not my place anymore."
You could still do an hour, couldn't you?
"I don't know."
He hung up the phone, and I thought that was the end of it. But yesterday we had an Official Theismann Sighting at 10:18 a.m. (PST) at the Redskins' hotel. He was wearing shorts and shades, and claimed to be "looking for my gin partner," the redoubtable Mark May.
I teased him, asking if I could tempt him into the interview tent for old time's sake.
Giggling, he respectfully declined.
Come on, Joe, just a quick three hours?
"Now cut that out."
Afterwards, May said he'd thought of dragging Theismann in just for the fun of it. "He could really work a room," May marvelled.
I asked May if he thought Joe had lost anything off his fastball, or could he still do a full hour.
"Standing on his head."