The nadir of what Theismann calls his "NFL roller-coaster ride" came one October evening in 1977. Speaking at a boosters' dinner, he was asked about Allen and, much to his regret, he pulled the cork on his bottled-up emotions. Among other things, he said Allen used people and was less than honest, particularly in denying Theismann his chance to play. Saying he drew his incentive to keep trying from the fans, Little Joe concluded, "I stopped playing for George Allen two years ago, because I can't play for someone who treats me that way."
Theismann was unaware there was a reporter present, and when his remarks made the morning editions, he rushed to Allen's doorstep at 7:30 a.m. to apologize. No answer. Returning home, he was confronted by Cheryl, who said, "Your big mouth got you in trouble again!" He says now, "She began crying, and it got so bad I had to draw the blinds."
Theismann apologized to Allen later that morning. Allen said he was hurt but understood Joe's frustrations. "When I wasn't traded after that incident," says Theismann, "I put all thoughts of moving to another team out of my head. I was George's insurance policy, and obviously nothing I did or could do would change that. I thought about tossing in the towel, and if I hadn't been married with a family, I might have. The last time I saw George—as he was walking out of here—he told me, 'You'll probably get to play now.' "
"Live for today" is another of Theismann's favorite sayings, and he does just that. In addition to being on TV and radio as a pitchman for furniture, cameras, banks and several charities, he does a Monday evening sportscast in the nation's capital during the football season and co-hosts a TV talk show. Good Morning, Washington, in the off-season. Monday nights he holds court at his restaurant, which isn't far from his two-story colonial home in Vienna, Va. Ever the scrambler-about-town, he plays the Hollywood Joe role to the hilt: limos, tinted shades and a wardrobe he describes as "modern flashy." Otherwise, he is Joe Homebody. "I can play the scene," he explains, "but I still have three children."
And how does the star quarterback prime himself for the big Sunday game? A cartoon freak, Theismann gets up early on Saturdays with his three kids, Joey, 9, Amy, 7, and Patrick, 19 months, and settles in for a long morning of watching TV monsters and space cadets, beginning with his favorite character, The Roadrunner. Theismann loves TV and, though a former Academic All-America who graduated with a B average in sociology, hates books. "I read slowly and I move my lips," he says.
Theismann wants to be in the flicks and has in fact already acted in one film, entitled Sam Marlow, Private Eye, in which he mainly stands behind George Raft with his arms folded, looking tough, like a linebacker. "When I think about the future, I think about acting and movies and TV and sportscasting," says Theismann. "I'd really like that. On my Canadian visa, when I played up there, they had me down as an 'entertainer,' and they were right. That's the business I'm in—show business—and the football field is my stage."
Theismann has taken acting lessons, and his Hollywood agent takes him on the rounds of the casting directors. Hence the Hollywood Joe handle, which was hung on him by former Redskin Center Ted Fritsch and instantly stuck, much to Theismann's delight. He feels it lends luster to his image and equates him with his hero and fellow Hungarian, Broadway Joe Namath. From the way Theismann's distaff fans, not to mention lady feature writers, go on about his tousled blond hair, devilish blue eyes and flashing white teeth, the world may indeed be ready for a bent-nose heartthrob. Theismann sees himself as a cross between Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, and he has been studying their macho ways. "I've seen Smokey and the Bandit 10 times on cable TV," he says.
While the silver screen waits, Theismann is making do with a Redskin contract that pays him $150,000 a season, plus bonuses. Come renewal time in 1982, he could command half a mil a year. Entrepreneur Joe dabbles in the silver market, owns part of a broodmare in Kentucky and has assorted real-estate holdings, including a condominium in Fort Lauderdale that is just a long pass or two from Billy Kilmer's place. "Maybe we'll get together for a round of golf sometime," says Theismann.
Though he keeps saying "Talk is cheap," Theismann is not above charging $3,000 to $5,000 for one of the 40 or so lectures he gives on motivation to business groups during the off-season. One of the better jock orators, he delivers his football-as-a-microcosm-of-society speech with a rousing élan that would do Rockne proud. Which figures. Even when he is alone, Theismann talks aloud to himself. And, of course, he will bend anyone's ear for free—especially if the listener is taking notes.
"Yes, sure," says the intrepid reporter, winding down in a second go-around with the mobile quarterback, "but looking back do you feel...?"