On This Date in Sports November 18, 1985: Joe Theismann's Injury

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The career of Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann comes to a sudden end when he suffers a gruesome leg injury in a Monday Night game against the New York Giants. The play comes on a flea-flicker in the second quarter that does not fool anyone. Theismann's leg gets caught under himself as he is sacked by Lawrence Taylor, leading to a compound fracture. Despite the loss of Joe Theismann, the Redskins win the game 23-21. 

Joe Theismann was in the prime of his career in 1985, as he recently signed a new contract extension. Theismann was born on September 9, 1949, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. A star at South River High School, Theismann, whose name was pronounced THEES-man, was changed to rhyme with Heisman while playing for Notre Dame. Theisman would finish second to Jim Plunkett of Stanford in a close race for the 1970 Heisman trophy. 

Despite his All-American status and finishing second in the Heisman vote, Joe Theismann was overlooked by NFL scouts, who felt he was too short to be a quarterback. He was selected 99th overall in the fourth round by the Miami Dolphins but chose to sign with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL instead. After three successful seasons in the CFL, Joe Theismann made his way to the NFL by signing with the Washington Redskins, who had purchased his rights from Miami. 

Joe Theismann struggled to see the field in his first seasons with the Redskins, as he backed up Billy Kilmer and occasionally returned punts. He finally won the starting job in 1978 and became one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. In 1982, Joe Theismann led the Redskins to a victory in Super Bowl XVII. A year later, Theismann was named MVP as the Redskins again reached the big game, losing to the Los Angeles Raiders. The Redskins would win a third consecutive division title in 1984 but were beaten by the Chicago Bears in the Divisional Round. 

The Redskins coached by Joe Gibbs, got off to a slow start in 1985, losing three of their first four games. By November, they played themselves back into playoff contention and sat at 5-5 as they hosted the New York Giants in a Monday Night matchup at RFK Stadium. The New York Giants were a resurgent team on the rise for coach Bill Parcells. The Giants came into the game at 7-3 with a chance to take over first place in the NFC East.

The Redskins got off to a quick start as Don Warren caught a ten-yard pass from Joe Theismann to Don Warren to build an early 7-0 lead. The Giants answered with a 56-yard touchdown run by Joe Morris. The game was tied 7-7 early in the second quarter when the Redskins had the ball near midfield. On first down, the Redskins attempted a flea-flicker as John Riggins tossed the ball back to Theismann. The Giants were not fooled on the play as both Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor grabbed the Redskins quarterback. Taylor leaping over Carson had Theismann and took him to the ground. On the way down, Joe Theismann's leg snapped in half. Lawrence Taylor realizing how bad the injury was waived at the training staff to get on the field. As he left the field on a stretcher, the crowd at RFK Stadium gave Joe Theismann a standing ovation. A big reason for the injury was that the Redskins were without All-Pro guard Joe Jacoby who was out with a knee injury. Neither team scored in the second quarter, as second-year quarterback Jay Schroeder took over for Theismann. 

In the third quarter, the Redskins regained the lead on a smashing one-yard plunge by John Riggins. The Giants again answered with a 41-yard run by Joe Morris. Morris later added an eight-yard run to give New York a 21-14 lead. Washington cut into the lead with a 28-yard field goal by Mark Moseley. The Redskins would later take the lead when Clint Didier reeled in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Schroeder. Moseley missed the PAT as the Redskins held a perilous 23-21 lead. The lead would stand as Vernon Dean picked off Phil Simms and was lifted onto his teammates' shoulders.

Both the Redskins and Giants finished the season with a record of 10-6, finishing in a three-way tie with the Dallas Cowboys for first place in the NFC East. The Cowboys won the division, the Giants were a Wild Card team, as the Redskins missed the playoffs by a tiebreaker. Joe Theismann wanted to return, but the injury left one leg shorter than the other after it healed.