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Our Chance To Be Great
Joe Theismann
February 14, 1983
The author, the quarterback of the Redskins, tells how a clever game plan, good execution and a bit of luck beat Miami in the Super Bowl
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February 14, 1983

Our Chance To Be Great

The author, the quarterback of the Redskins, tells how a clever game plan, good execution and a bit of luck beat Miami in the Super Bowl

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Looking back on it now, I don't think our victory in the Super Bowl can be taken all by itself. It has to be treated as the end of one long, incredible emotional experience. When did it begin? Well, for me, maybe it began when I first started playing football, at the age of 12. Maybe when I decided to play in Canada instead of the NFL after coming out of Notre Dame in 1971. Maybe when George Allen kept me sitting on the bench behind Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer for four years after I joined the Redskins in 1974. Maybe after we started the 1981 season 0-5. Since then we've won 20 of our 24 games.

All I know is that I didn't begin thinking Super Bowl until after our 31-17 victory over the Cowboys for the NFC championship. We knew all along that if we were going to get to the Super Bowl we'd have to beat Dallas, the only team we lost to during the regular season. After we got past Minnesota in our second playoff game, the party line among the players was, "Oh, we don't care who we play. We don't care if it's Dallas or Green Bay." But that wasn't true. Everybody wanted the Cowboys. And we beat them.

That was on a Saturday, eight days before the Super Bowl. The next afternoon, Miami played the Jets for the AFC championship. I tried to watch the game on TV at my house in Vienna, Va., but the place was a zoo. My three kids were running around and there were three television crews there to watch me watch. I sat there watching like a fan, trying to decide who I'd rather play against in the Super Bowl. Joe Walton, the Jets' offensive coordinator, was my quarterback coach for three years with the Redskins. He taught me more about the discipline of playing my position than any other coach I've ever had. I wanted to play the Jets. But I wanted to play the Dolphins, too. Miami was the team that drafted me out of Notre Dame, and my brief experience with the Dolphins hadn't been pleasant. I'd publicly promised that come hell or high water I'd be a Dolphin, but by the time Joe Robbie, the Miami owner, and I could work things out, it was too late. I'd already decided to sign for three years with the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL, and not without some regret. I have a ring that I had made when I came back from Canada. It has three small diamonds, which represent my three Super Bowls—'71, '72 and '73—that the Dolphins played in while I was in exile.

I was so charged up on Monday morning that I couldn't wait until five o'clock, when we were to meet at Redskin Park, near Dulles Airport, before flying to the Coast. Again, the house was crazy. Amy, who's 9, had to go to dancing school, and Joey, 11, had to go someplace else, and my wife, Cheryl, had to drive all the car pools and run some errands and take care of little Patrick, who's 4. She wanted to know what time I had to be out at the park. "Five," I'd said. "No, four...no, three." I was driving her nuts. By two o'clock I had two suitcases packed and ready to go, and by chance a friend of mine, who's a policeman, dropped by to wish me luck. "Hey, things are already falling into place," I said. "Can you take me out to the park?"

And so I got to ride in his black-and-white. Most kids like police cars. Now I had one to play with. I had the sirens and the horns blaring and the red lights spinning as we drove along, and my friend kept saying, "Will you stop, Joe? You're going to get me in trouble!" I said, "Hey, I'm having a ball!" As we pulled up to the park a police barricade was already in place, because a couple of thousand fans were expected for our send-off. I hit the sirens and the lights again, and my friend said, "Oh, don't do that, please. My sergeant's here." I said, "Oh, they're not going to care. We're going to the Super Bowl!"

On the plane I got my first taste of our game plan from Joe [Gibbs, the Redskin coach], who also saved me from losing my Super Bowl check in a gin game with [Tackle] Mark May. Joe said that the main thing we would do to counteract Miami's great defense would be to constantly change our offensive formations. We'd shift our tight end from one side of the formation to the other and then we'd move our wingback, who is usually a second tight end, back and forth behind the line of scrimmage. We'd send our wide receivers in different motion patterns. It was all designed to tie down the mobile Dolphin linebackers, to make them respond to our movements, rather than us respond to theirs. Miami had beaten the Jets and San Diego in the playoffs by making their offenses react to the Dolphins' defensive alignments. The plays we'd run wouldn't be new, nor would the formations we'd run them from. But it was the way we'd get to those formations that would be a problem for Miami.

We checked into our hotel in Costa Mesa on Monday night. On Tuesday, after a huge morning press conference and picture-taking session, we finally got onto the practice field, and everything seemed to be moving fast. Out of sequence. It wasn't a very good practice, but it was enough to get us going. That night I drove to Burt Reynolds' home in Holmby Hills for dinner and a movie and to meet some of his friends: Ricardo Montalban, Loni Anderson and Karen Valentine. I've had a little Hollywood experience myself. I played a bouncer in The Man With Bogart's Face, with Bob Sacchi, Michelle Phillips and George Raft, and I also had a part in one episode of B.J. & the Bear.

Wednesday's press conference was even bigger, and it ran a little late. Some of us—I'll mention no names—didn't make the bus to the practice field and drove cars over to it. Joe was upset. I mean ticked. The man was flat PO'd. He was walking up and down outside the locker room, and you could see smoke coming out of his ears. He came inside, slammed down his clipboard and said, "I want everybody in this organization on the buses. Everybody's going to take the buses. Nobody drives cars. This isn't a party. We're here to do something, and we've got to take it seriously."

Joe definitely got his point across. He's not a yeller, so we knew he meant what he said. In fact, what he did in that meeting could have been one of the most significant things that happened all week. Everybody's concentration came back just like that. To give you an idea of what kinds of characters we have on our football team, [Tackle] George Starke walked over to Joe as practice was ending and said, "What time's the bus leaving, Coach?" Joe just smiled.

Predictably, everybody made the buses on Thursday. I was beginning to realize that during Super Bowl week, the only sane moments come in our meetings and on the practice field. Everything else—the press conferences, the TV attention, the crazy fans clogging the hotel lobby day in and day out—is fantasyland. That morning at our quarterback meeting, Joe had this extra little twinkle in his eye. You just knew that he had something special, like a kid with a new toy. Our coaches called it the Explode Package. It was a series of four plays in which we've got everybody in the world moving. The tight end moves from split to tight, the wingback moves from the right side to the left side, the halfback moves from behind me to behind the tight end, the two wide receivers shift out and one of them goes in motion. All this happens when I say, "Set." It looks like a Chinese fire drill.

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