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For his part, Theismann can always come up with a few thousand words on the subject of the new and improved Theismann. "When I wasn't playing much, I'd do anything to get recognized," he says. "If it was third-and-long, Katie, bar the door. I'd scramble around a lot, go for the bomb. I can still do it, but it just isn't smart football. I've learned that lesson."
And a few others: Theismann forces the ball less, throws to a variety of receivers, not just one, and stays in the pocket longer. Jurgensen, now a CBS TV commentator, says, "Joe has always had the athletic ability. Now he has the maturity and consistency. He's been remarkably steady, something he wasn't before. You just can't go for the home run all the time. You have to take what the other team gives you."
Befitting his new approach of "using my mind more than my body," Theismann disdains the label of scrambler in favor of "mobile quarterback." Translation: "I still can run. I can do the things I've always done, but now I'm more disciplined. I don't free-lance as much. I'm not always looking for the spectacular, the hot-doggish type of thing. I'm looking for consistency, moving the football. I've learned that sometimes smart football is just not colorful. The way Joe Walton wants things is the way I do them now. It's by design."
Walton's way is to call the game from the sidelines. Theismann isn't thrilled about that but consoles himself by calling audibles as well as the formations for one of the most complex offenses in the league. "We can run one play from 40 different formations," he says. "Our system's so complicated that I've become the Bobby Fischer of the NFL. I've always been a student of the game. It's just that I have a better teacher now. Joe is like a good book you want to keep reading over and over. I play a game with him—we describe game situations and see if we call the same plays—and we agree 85% of the time. We're really one mind in two bodies. He and I are like cut from the same tree. Perfectionists."
The most difficult concept to grasp, says Theismann, was that "I'm only one-11th of the offense. I'm a quarterback who now relies on the other players more, which I didn't do in the past. We're all playing on the same page now, and that's paramount in winning." Walton says, "If I've done anything for Joe, it's showing him that he can't beat Dallas by himself. Joe puts on a certain facade, but being alone with him a lot, I've come to admire him as a good, honest kid with great values. He has a touch of greatness."
The surprise is not that Theismann agrees with this greatness business so expansively but that his loud agreement is accepted so easily. Partly it's because his bravado is of the harmless Ali variety. And partly it has to do with an almost childlike openness that inspires him to deliver remarks like "I love life and I love to laugh." Indeed, he has a whole repertoire of lines that sound like CYO banquet throwaways: "Winning is a cure-all"; "Inside every NFL player there is a little boy"; "There's more to this game "than money." Guard Dan Nugent, Theismann's roommate at training camp and on the road, has heard them all and, like most of the Redskins, dismisses the bluster and braggadocio as the spillover of Theismann's "boyish exuberance."
Nugent and the others have learned that, try as they may, it's almost impossible to resent someone who not only admits to being "lippy" but also proudly numbers among his heroes and friends two of the most notorious loudmouths extant. "Howard Cosell is one of the most intelligent men in the world today," Theismann says solemnly. And for a "real thrill and a half," he says, nothing quite measures up to being in a Las Vegas nightclub audience and having your pal Don Rickles introduce you.
Is Theismann egotistic? "I'm egotistic," he says, "but I define that as belief in oneself." Arrogant? "I don't think I'm arrogant. I'm very intense and sometimes that gets misinterpreted." Cocky? "There's a fine line between cockiness and confidence. I'm confident." Brash? "Hey, sometimes I push too hard." Theatrical? "Yeah, I'm a ham."
Occasionally, Theismann will go for the surprise option of repentance: "When things went wrong, I tended to blame someone else, when I should've blamed myself." Of late, he's even been trying to perfect the old statue-of-humility play, although it often comes off as an afterthought tripping over a cliché. Example: "The thrill of victory is what I love—within the unit, of course. A quarterback is only as good as the men he plays with."
What Theismann does not do is apologize for Theismann. "Hey, I'm me," he says. Besides, a mild-mannered leader, he contends, would be a contradiction in terms. After all, who ever heard of a shy quarterback, a meek field general? They called Napoleon cocky, too, but he won some big ones. "Gosh," Theismann pleads, "if you can't believe in yourself, who are you going to believe in? And how can I get 10 other guys in the huddle to believe in me if I don't? What's that saying? If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Well, I just like to cook."