The NFL great talks about the league, Super Bowl XLV, and reflects on one of the most gruesome injuries in sports history
Joe Theismann has, by his own admission, enjoyed several careers. The first of which ended in 1985 when former NY Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor crumpled his right leg underneath him. Since then, he's moved on to become a broadcaster—currently for the NFL Network—and now he's spreading the word about Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms, a condition few people know about. We sat down with Theismann to find out more.
Photo courtesy of ESPN
You've been a busy guy. You recently became involved with Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms (AAA) awareness. How did you become associated with this condition?
My dad was diagnosed with AAA three or four years ago. Getting involved was enlightening for me. The large artery that carries blood from the heart to the lower extremities gets a bulge in it, a little bubble. If that bursts, there's about a 90% chance of you dying. If it's diagnosed and treated, those numbers are reversed.
So I'm on an awareness campaign. As you go for a physical, ask for a vascular ultrasound. You probably know someone that has AAA, but they don't know it, either. We want people to go to findtheaaanswers.org to check it out.
As a former QB, what was your reaction to the league cracking down on helmet-to-helmet hits this season with increased fines?
We play a violent sport with violent hits, and they're not going to go away. We have a wonderful ability to adapt, as players. The thing that scared me when the emphasis was first placed was there really isn't any penalty for hitting someone below the neck. If you hit someone in the head, you'll be penalized. If you go low, you're going to start ending careers.
What are your thoughts on the proposed 18-game season?
You have to look at the off-season programs. They need to be modified. When I came into the league in the '70s, we went to training camp to get in shape. I played six exhibition games, as well as a 14-game schedule. I played 20 games before I even got to the playoffs, so I've played an 18-game season. The first thing they need to do is increase the roster size from 45 to 53, then you'll have a bigger pool of players to be able to play, so you can possibly cut down on the wear and tear on specific individuals. You don't have to have your starting middle linebacker covering kicks.
One issue from the player's union perspective is the retired players benefits package. As a retired player, what do you think?
I'd like to see retired players get their compensation quicker—and an increase in the amount of money for retirement. We have one of the worst retirement programs in all of sports. When you're 22 or 23 years old and making $10 million, there is no end. And then all of a sudden the harsh reality of being out of the game for three of four years strikes and you have to go get a job, a real job. And there's a lifestyle that you and your family are used to—and it goes away quick. You'd be surprised how fast a million dollars can go if you don't watch it.
Theismann at MF headquarters in NYC
Let's get your Super Bowl predictions.
Last year, they [Pittsburgh and Green Bay] played and the game was 37-36. Ben threw a TD with no time left on the clock to beat the Packers. You expect a high scoring game, but I don't expect Ben to throw for 500 yards, and I don't expect Aaron Rodgers to throw for 380 yards. It'll be a close game somewhere in the 20s.
The difference between last year's game and this one is Green Bay's defense was nowhere near as good as it is this year. I like the Green Bay Packers in this game. I think Aaron Rodgers spreading the defense out is the way they'll approach it. Green Bay's a throwing football team. If Pittsburgh has to get into a throwing game, they probably can do it, but it's not the most comfortable thing for them. If Green Bay threw 60 times, I wouldn't be surprised. You've got a terrific receiving core. I'm leaning towards the Packers.
Let's discuss your famous injury. What went through your head as it happened?
That moment changed my life. I was the most despicable, egotistical pain in the ass that you could imagine. I had no room for anybody. I was a football star. I was making a lot of money. I had all the things that you could materialistically want in life, but I lost myself along the way. Football was the most important thing to me in my life. When it's gone, you become very introspective. I had to rebuild Joe Theismann.
How painful was the injury? It looked absolutely excruciating.
My leg from the knee down was completely numb. They took me from the gurney at the stadium into the ambulance, from the ambulance to the hospital gurney. When they lift me up they forget to pick up the lower part of my right leg. And I don't feel a thing. I happen to mention to one of the attendants, "Can you do me a favor? Can you pick up the rest of me and put me on here, too?"
But I felt nothing. And when I got into the hospital, I had to bring a black and white TV in, with a coat hanger stuck in, so I could watch the rest of the game. So I actually watched the rest of the game while they prepped my leg.
Over the years, how many times do you think you've seen footage of the injury?
I've only seen it once. Only once. I was sick to my stomach just before it happened, and I'll never see it again. Never. Never, ever, ever.