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Kevin Schnepf, Published November 13 2012

Schnepf: Ex-quarterback Theismann speaks in Fargo today

Fargo - He could be a future Hall of Fame football player, but Joe Theismann is the first to admit he is known for these two things: changing the pronunciation of his last name, and suffering a broken leg that horrified a national television audience.

“When people mention Joe Theismann, that’s what they think of,” Theismann said in a recent phone interview. “I’m 63 years old now and I really have no idea how I got here. It’s like I went to bed one night at age 50 and woke up at age 63.”

Theismann still speaks with the vigor of a young entrepreneur. He will display that enthusiasm at noon today when he speaks at the Fargo Ramada Plaza and Suites during the Fargo Chamber of Commerce’s Voices of Vision luncheon.

“I’ve never been to Fargo … I’m looking forward to it,” Theismann said.

It was back in 1971 when Theismann was an All-American quarterback at Notre Dame. His last name used to be pronounced “Thees-man.” But the Notre Dame publicity man persuaded him to change the pronunciation to “Thighs-man” to rhyme with Heisman – the trophy handed out to the top college football player every year.

Theismann finished second in voting to Stanford’s Jim Plunkett.

Fourteen years later, as the quarterback for the Washington Redskins during a Monday night NFL game, Theismann’s illustrious career came to an end when he suffered a compound fracture of his leg while being tackled by New York Giants’ linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

“I can still see and feel everything,” Theismann said. “It is so vivid. I can still feel the moisture on my back. The faces around me. The time on the clock at RFK Stadium … 10:05 p.m.”

The injury was voted the NFL’s “Most Shocking Moment in History.” That’s because a national-television audience watched in horror the replay showing Theismann’s contorted leg.

The injury was highlighted in the movie “The Blind Side.”

“It doesn’t hurt when Sandra Bullock says my name a few times,” joked Theismann, who never played football again after a career that included one Super Bowl championship.

Theismann has since been an analyst for various NFL telecasts, owns a restaurant, has dabbled in real estate, has written three books about football and is now working on a motivational book.

Today at the Ramada, Theismann hopes to motivate people.

“I discovered a while ago that things everybody talks about in business – goals, attitude, working together as a team, gaining that competitive edge – those are all things we talked about in football,” said Theismann, whose first paying job was cleaning headlights and windshields for a nickel at his father’s gas station in New Jersey. “When I started seeing that correlation, I started to build the presentation that I now give. I also discovered that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

And Theismann still knows plenty about football – offering his thoughts about the rising rates of concussions.

“Back when I played, they would hold up fingers in front of you to see if you knew how many,” Theismann said. “Normally, they would hold up two. So you knew if you guessed two, you would get back into the game.

“It’s tougher now and it’s the right thing.”

What does he think of the Minnesota Vikings, who have surprised many with their 6-4 record?

“AP. Wow, wow, wow. That’s all I can say about him,” Theismann said of running back Adrian Peterson. “And Percy Harvin is capable of doing so many things. They just have to be careful that he doesn’t do too much. It’s a long season.”

Theismann knows all too well that a season – and a career – can end on one play. Nearly 20 years after his broken leg, he saw the replay for the first time.

“I saw it once and only once,” said Theismann, who now finds joy in talking about more than just football. “For me, it’s very rewarding sharing information giving people a chance to improve their life and their business.”


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com