Joe Theismann (born September 9, 1949) is a former American football quarterback and current television football announcer for ESPN. He was born to an Austrian father, Joseph John Theismann, and a Hungarian mother, Olga Tobias, and was raised in South River, New Jersey. He played football for the University of Notre Dame and was a runner-up in the 1970 Heisman Trophy voting which went to Jim Plunkett of Stanford University. Late in the season, his hallmates in Zahm House hung an enormous banner out of a 4th story window proclaiming, "Theisman for Heisman," changing the original pronunciation of his surname, "THEEZ-man," to rhyme with "Heisman," which he has continued to use since then. During his collegiate career, the smallish Theismann (just 6'-0", 180 lb/1.83 m, 82 kg), led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3-2 record. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
Joe Theismann was selected in the fourth round by the Miami Dolphins in the 1971 NFL Draft, as well as Major League Baseball's Minnesota Twins as a shortstop in that year's Major League Baseball draft. However, instead of playing for the Dolphins or the Twins, Theismann elected to play for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. In his rookie year, Theismann led the Argonauts to a 10-4 record and won the league's eastern conference passing title. But a controversial call in the Grey Cup championship game versus the Calgary Stampeders in Vancouver, British Columbia cost the Argonauts the CFL championship.
In 1974, the National Football League's Washington Redskins obtained his rights, and Theismann, so determined to make it to the NFL, voluntarily spent his first two seasons as a punt returner. In 1978, Joe Theismann became their starting quarterback.
Theismann led the Redskins to a win in Super Bowl XVII and an appearance in Super Bowl XVIII and would go on to set several Redskins franchise records, including most career passing attempts (3,602), most career passing completions (2,044) and most career passing yards (25,206). He was the NFL's MVP in 1983 and played in two Pro Bowl games, earning the player of the game award in the second game.
In an era when most quarterbacks had long since used variations of a double-bar facemask, Theismann refused to use anything but a single bar facemask throughout his career as not to obstruct his vision.
His career would end in 1985 with a gruesome compound fracture of his leg, suffered during a sack by New York Giants linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Gary Reasons during a Monday Night Football game telecast. On a "flea-flicker" play that didn't fool the Giants defense, Taylor sandwiched Theismann into Reasons and inadvertently landed on Theismann's right leg, fracturing both the tibia and the fibula.
"It was at that point, I also found out what a magnificent machine the human body is," Theismann said. "Almost immediately, from the knee down, all the feeling was gone in my right leg. The endorphins had kicked in, and I was not in pain." Shapiro, Leonard (Nov. 18, 2005). "The Hit That Changed a Career". Washington Post, p. E01.
As Theismann lay on the stadium's natural grass field, a horrified Taylor screamed for EMTs, though for a moment, before they realized Theismann was hurt, the Redskins' personnel thought Taylor's screaming and pointing directed at their sidelines was a taunt over the fact that he'd successfully stopped their play.
The injury ultimately forced Theismann into a relatively early retirement at the age of 36, and some have speculated that it halted a potential Hall of Fame career. To Theismann's credit, he has never blamed Lawrence Taylor for his injury, and Taylor has said that he has never seen film of the play and never wants to.
Theismann currently works as a color commentator on ESPN's Monday Night Football NFL telecasts.