Joe Gibbs was responsible for many remarkable achievements during his Hall of Fame career as coach of the Washington Redskins. Among them was his unique ability to deny the voluble Joe Theismann the last word.
"Trust me," said Theismann, the Redskins quarterback-turned-broadcaster known for his detailed analyses and expansive use of the language. "When he made his mind up, it didn't matter what you were thinking."
Theismann was always thinking - and often testing Gibbs' patience. Gibbs, meanwhile, liked to test Theismann's intellect. It made for an interesting - if not complex - relationship, one NBC hopes to recapture by putting the two Joes together in the broadcast booth for an NFC wild-card playoff game Jan. 9. Tom Hammond will do the play-by-play and perhaps serve as third man in the ring.
"There's a lot of things for him to get even with me," Gibbs said, followed by his trademark cackling laugh. "This is his chance. He always wanted to call his own plays. I said, 'Not on your life. You're not gonna get me fired with your plays.' "
Not that Theismann didn't try. He recalls one especially cogent moment of brilliance when he approached Gibbs with a new idea to beat a certain coverage. Theismann listed all the reasons the plan would work. Then it was Gibbs' turn.
Recounted Theismann, "He put his coffee cup down and looked at me over those big frog-eye glasses, and he sort of pursed his lips, and he said, 'We're... not... gonna... do... that... are we?' "
End of conversation.
Gibbs inherited Theismann when he became the Redskins' coach in 1981, and both thrived. The next year, Theismann became the first of three different quarterbacks to lead the Redskins to a Super Bowl victory. But Theismann is the only quarterback to help lead Washington to two Super Bowls. The Redskins went back the following year but lost to the Los Angeles Raiders.
"I know from working with him that he's very bright," Gibbs said. "What we used to do was put in something real creative in practice just to make him think about it. Something really complicated. I think he needed that challenge mentally."
Added Theismann: "I loved it when Joe came up with different formations, different plays. But one battle I never won was the shotgun. [Center] Jeff Bostic snapped it over my head against the Raiders in the first exhibition game in 1985, and we never ran it again. It was third-and-6, and Jeff snaps it over my head. We recovered at the 11-yard line and Joe says, 'No more shotgun!" I said, 'But coach...' and that was all I was allowed to get out."
Be assured that Theismann will be able to speak his mind much more freely this time around.
"In Gibbs and Theismann we have a former coach and quarterback who obviously have a long relationship and will be looking at a football game from different points of view," said Tommy Roy, who will co-produce the game. "There could be some disagreements between the two during the game, which I think is not necessarily a bad thing and could make for an entertaining broadcast."
Said Theismann, "It's time for me to acquire more knowledge. The more I'm around football, the more I appreciate the genius of Joe. ... What I was able to do out of football, Joe to a great degree was responsible for it. He created the opportunity."
Theismann, who can be seen and heard on NFL Network and ESPN 980 radio, was part of ESPN's Sunday night telecasts for 18 years before moving to "Monday Night Football" in 2006 after the network acquired the rights. He was fired the following year and replaced by Ron Jaworski. Theismann's long broadcasting career includes doing commentary during Super Bowl XIX on ABC after the 1984 season while still an active player (he replaced O.J. Simpson). But he has never worked for NBC.
Gibbs, on the other hand, has. He joined the network in 1994, two years after he retired for the first time as Redskins coach. He started out doing games, then moved to the studio, working with host Greg Gumbel and, at various times, Cris Collinsworth, Mike Ditka and Ahmad Rashad on the "NFL Live" pregame show. NBC at that time had the contract to broadcast AFC games.
His last year with NBC was 1997, when the network lost the rights.
"I had just redone my second contract, and I was set for another three or four years, and I got a call from [then-NBC Sports president] Dick Ebersol," Gibbs said. "He said, 'Sorry, Coach, we just lost football.' I said, 'Nobody loses football.' He said, 'We did.' I said, 'Am I out of a job?' He said, 'You got that right.' "
NBC got back into the game in 2006 with "Sunday Night Football." Gibbs, meanwhile, built up his NASCAR team and came back to coach the Redskins in 2004 before retiring for a second time after the 2007 season. He got a telephone call from NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer "just out of nowhere," he said. "I told him I really appreciated the call and I'd love to do it. I didn't even think about it."
Theismann said his agent told him NBC wanted him in the booth for a playoff game, but he did not learn about Gibbs until the next day.
"It was a huge surprise," he said. "I'm excited. All those years I had to sit in meetings and I couldn't say anything or he wouldn't listen to what I'm saying. And now he's forced to. Three hours with me, and he can't tell me to shut up."