History Lesson : Theismann’s Big Break

By now, you’ve probably seen or at least heard about the gruesome injury suffered by Louisville men’s basketball player Kevin Ware. I was working upstairs with the TV on mute while the game was on so I could look up at the score every now and then, but it was on live downstairs so I could still faintly hear what was going on.

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The commotion that followed Kevin Ware’s injury, however, was anything but faint. I looked up just in time to see the second replay of what has to be the worst injury I’ve ever witnessed with my own two eyes on a television screen. If you’ve not seen it…don’t seek it out. It’s one of those injuries you can’t un-see. Just know that Ware’s leg snapped beneath him like a twig through a lawnmower, his teammates were so dismayed that they were throwing up on the sidelines, and his head coach was in tears.

Joe Theismann, former quarterback of the Washington Redskins, is probably one of the only people who can truly empathize with Ware.

Today's History Lesson features the only person in the world who understands exactly what Kevin Ware is going through: Joe Theismann.

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Theismann was a star at Notre Dame in his college days and was initially drafted to the Miami Dolphins in 1971, though he decided to spend 3 years as a quarterback in the Canadian Football League instead due to problems with contract negotiations with the Dolphins. In 1974 he was obtained by the Washington Redskins and finally got his chance to be a starting quarterback for the Redskins in 1978. Another 4 years later, in 1982, he led the Redskins to their first Super Bowl win in 40 years.

His career as the Redskins starter continued until a Monday night in 1985 in a home game against the Giants. In the second quarter, Theismann handed the ball off to RB John Riggins, who pitched it back to Joe on a flea flicker pass. He dropped back to find an open receiver and was sacked by Hall of Fame Linebacker Lawrence Taylor. It would be the hit that ended his career.

Theismann’s leg immediately snapped in two, and was so badly broken that Lawrence Taylor was the first one to jump up off the pile and frantically motion for the Redskins training staff to come onto the field to help. It was so badly broken that L.T. didn’t stop there – he ran over to the Redskins sideline to get their orthopedic surgeon, Charles Jackson, who had been on the job for three weeks. In an interview about that night he recalled, “I just remember L.T. coming over and grabbing me. I hadn’t seen the play, and when I went out on the field, I looked down at Joe’s leg and his bone was sticking through his sock. Remember, I’ve only been doing this for three weeks, and I’m saying to myself, ‘Oh, man, what have I gotten myself into here?’ “

Perhaps the best part of this story is Joe’s memory of being transferred from the ambulance to the hospital: “When we pulled up there, as they were transferring me from the ambulance to a stretcher, they actually forgot to pick up my right leg. It just kind of flopped down. I remember saying to the attendant, ‘Hey, can you just grab the rest of me?'”

No big deal.

Sadly, Theismann would never return to play in the NFL again. And neither he nor Taylor would ever watch the tape of the play that ended his career.

Theismann, always the class act, has reached out to Kevin Ware this week during his recovery and has let it be known that he’ll be supporting Ware 100% throughout his recovery.

Because if anyone knows what he’s going through, it’s Joe.

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