"Uh-huh," says the intrepid reporter. "However, on the other hand...."
"Don't get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for George Allen. He's a proven winner. It's just that there were vast differences between us. He liked oldtimers; I was a newcomer. He was a defensive specialist; I was a quarterback. He preferred a conservative offense; I preferred doing a little scrambling. I think the ultimate victory for George would be a 2-0 win. One thing he did teach me was how to be mentally tough. I had to be to survive the toughest ordeal I've ever been through."
"Er, ah," says the intrepid reporter, "could we back it up a moment...?"
"I've been wandering around looking for that ball," says Theismann, "and now I've found it. Yeah, I've found the green pastures. The grain is high, the trees are yielding fruit, and it's time to reap the harvest...."
Theismann pauses in deference to the moaning of the intrepid reporter who, overcome by writer's cramp, is struggling to keep up. Checking the poor fellow's notes, the quarterback says, "Yeah, that's right, 'found the green pastures.' No, 'the grain is high' comes first, then 'trees are yielding fruit,' and 'time to reap the harvest!' O.K., got it? I have to go now."
And so he does, leaving the intrepid reporter slumped over his note pad with his 86 in-depth questions intact, plus a new one: Who was that masked man? Friends insist that Theismann is a crusader without mystery, that the public Theismann—candid, cocky, brash, voluble, playful, outrageous, enthusiastic, self-absorbed—is the real Theismann. A likable, even downright inspiring leader of men, they say. Indeed, in a town that of late has endured its share of strutting would-be heroes, Theismann has become more than the people's choice in this election year.
"Joe not only has the team, the coaches and the fans believing in him," says Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard, "he has himself believing in him, and that's the key. I'm not sure he always had that, no matter how much talking he did." Theismann, forever his own best analyst, says he knows why the faith was so long in coming: "My mouth always preceded my performance."
No more. It took some seasoning and a lot of taming by Washington's offensive coordinator, Joe Walton, but Little Joe has come of age. In 1978, after Jack Pardee replaced Allen as coach, Theismann won the starting job and responded by leading the rebuilding Redskins to six straight victories. Then he faltered, throwing costly interceptions and requiring emergency relief from Kilmer as the Skins won only two of their final 10 games to close out the season at 8-8.
Last season, with Kilmer in retirement and Theismann declaring himself free at last of "outside distractions," Little Joe started all 16 games for the first time. The Redskins rolled up 348 points, the second-highest total in the club's 48-year history. Joe the Throw's aerial revue—59% accuracy, 2,797 yards, 20 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions—was the best performance by any Redskin quarterback in a decade, and his teammates voted him their MVP. In fact, Theismann rated higher in the NFL stats than Terry Bradshaw, Dan Fouts, Dan Pastorini or any other quarterback, save Roger Staubach. "I can be as good as anyone in the game," says Little Joe.
However, it may take Theismann longer to meet his self-proclaimed destiny—a Super Bowl championship—than he anticipates. After Sunday's 14-0 loss to Seattle, the Redskins' record is 1-3.