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Excuse me," says the intrepid reporter. "Could you tell me where I might find Joe Theismann?"
The question seems to stun the attendants at the Redskins' practice field. Finally, with the air of a tour guide being asked the whereabouts of that big pointy thing called the Washington Monument, one elderly guard smiles indulgently and, without uttering a word, cups his hand to his ear. The message is clear: one doesn't have to find a quarterback who comes on like the Metroliner rolling in from Philly; one merely has to listen for the rumble and the roar of the Hollywood Joe Aerial Circus & Scrambling Road Show.
And sure enough, heard before he is seen, Theismann comes chugging out of the locker room with members of the news media in pursuit, wisecracking and waving to his assembled fans, signing autographs, tweaking children's cheeks, winking at the pretty girls and hugging giggling matrons while their husbands gleefully click away with their Instamatics. "I like being recognized," he says. "I like making people happy."
As always, Theismann gravitates to the TV lights and the still photographers' strobes like a moth to flame, inquiring of each newsman, "Hey, want anything from me?" They do, of course they do, perhaps because they are mindful of what befell a radio reporter who once had the temerity to say, "No, thanks"; undeterred, Theismann snatched the fellow's tape recorder, popped it on and did a lengthy self-interview about the Redskins' prospects and how he would personally see to it that they brought honor and glory to the banks of the Potomac.
Reserve Quarterback Mike Kruczek, a new Redskin acquisition who thought he had seen everything in four seasons of backing up Terry Bradshaw at Pittsburgh, decided otherwise when he first caught Theismann's act and barbed welcome: "Hey, Mike, will you let us try on your Super Bowl rings?" Agape, Kruczek whispered to a team official, "Is he always like this?"
Yes, and even more so when a rival sharpshooter rides into town and needs to be set straight about who's the No. 1 gun in Redskin country. "Remember, I've played behind some pretty tough guys," says Theismann. "And when you've been an officer in Patton's army, you learn how to protect your flanks."
Theismann is alluding to the four "agonizing" years he spent playing orderly to battle-scarred veterans Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer under the command of Field Marshal George von Allen. It hurts Theismann to talk about what it was like being "the new kid in the NFL's retirement home," but it's all glow when he talks about being at the controls of the Hollywood Joe Super Bowl Express. Just ask him.
"Hello, Joe," says the intrepid reporter, readying the first of his 86 in-depth questions. "How are you?"
"Fantastic," says Theismann. "After all those frustrating years on the sidelines, being a starting quarterback in the NFL is a dream come true. Yeah, I paid my dues—with interest. You can't believe the torture, the mental anguish. I never doubted my ability. I doubted that I'd ever get the chance to show my wares.
"Listen, I love a challenge. Like when I was a 5'10", 148-pound quarterback at South River [N.J.] High. I was set to go to North Carolina State until some newspaper guy said Little Joe would get killed if he went to Notre Dame. That ticked me off, and I said, 'I'll show them.' So I went to Notre Dame and only set 23 records, including most interceptions."