Joe Theismann: 'I turned away' during Alex Smith's leg injury

Shalise Manza Young
·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·3 min read

When Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith was lost for the season on Sunday after breaking the tibia and fibula in his right leg on a second half play against the Houston Texans, it immediately brought back memories of Joe Theismann and the similar injury he suffered while in a Washington uniform.

Incredibly, Smith’s injury happened 33 years to the day after Theismann’s. And for the former MVP, the bad memories came flooding back.

‘I turned away’

The 69-year-old Theismann was at FedEx Field for the game, and saw Smith go down. But he couldn’t watch more after that.

Washington quarterback Alex Smith’s leg injury brought a flood of bad memories for Joe Theismann. (Getty Images)
Washington quarterback Alex Smith’s leg injury brought a flood of bad memories for Joe Theismann. (Getty Images)

“I saw a pile of people go down, and then I saw Alex’s leg in the position it was in. And I turned away after that,” Theismann told Associated Press NFL reporter Howard Fendrich. “It brought back vivid memories.”

New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor brought Theismann down from behind on Nov. 18, 1985, a moment that is, unfortunately, an indelible part of NFL history. The impact of the play snapped Theismann’s tibia and fibula, also in his right leg. One of the bones broke through the skin.

“This date has always been a day in my life that I’ll never forget,” Theismann said.

Sending sympathy and support

Theismann immediately sent tweets about Smith’s injury, first noting that it was exactly like his, and then one of sympathy.

He told Fendrich that he has sent Smith a text message of support.

“My immediate thought was that my heart went out to him. I feel so bad for him,” Theismann said. “I know the road ahead. We’re somewhat similar in age [when the injuries happened]. He’s not 25 or 26 years of age. I was 35; he’s 34. How long will it take to come back? What is the severity?

“I worry less about Alex and his football career than I do Alex and wanting to be able to do the things in life he wants to do.”

There was so much bone damage in Theismann’s leg that once he was healed his right leg was a little shorter. He never played again after that November day.

Smith, Washington face uncertain future

There’s no knowing at this point how Smith will heal, though of course there have been advances in medicine over the 33 years since Theismann’s injury.

This was his first season in Washington, having been traded to the team from Kansas City during Super Bowl week. He signed a four-year, $94 million extension with Washington in March.

Washington finished the game with Colt McCoy at quarterback, but McCoy is the only other quarterback currently on the roster; the team is bringing in several players for a tryout on Monday (it’s largely a terrible list), and coach Jay Gruden said the hope is to sign one by the end of the day.

Washington fell to 6-4 with the loss to Houston, but for now remains atop the NFC East.

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