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Founded by New York Yankees legendary shortstop last year, PlayersTribune.com gives current and former professional athletes the chance to tell unfiltered stories.
On Tuesday, former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann was candid about his career, and what went through his mind sometimes, in an article entitled “Letter To My Younger Self.”
This letter, which goes in chronological order starting with his days as a sensational college player, provides an entirely new narrative about Theismann where he writes about advice he would have given to himself had he known more.
Theismann starts with when he was a Heisman finalist after his junior year and then fast forwards to the day he heeded the advice of the school’s PR Director to change his last name.
Before your senior year, Notre Dame’s PR director Roger Valdiserri convinced you to change the pronunciation of your last name so that it rhymes with Heisman. From this experience you’ll learn a couple of things. Firstly, voters aren’t interested in gimmicks. Secondly, sometimes nicknames have a way of sticking. Say goodbye to Joe ‘Theesmann.’
After his Notre Dame career finished, Theismann was drafted by both the Miami Dolphins and the Minnesota Twins.
But, without an agent, contract talks would stall with the Dolphins and he’d instead join the Toronto Argonauts.
I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but maybe think twice about signing a contract with the Toronto Argonauts after you’ve already agreed to a contract with the Miami Dolphins. Coach Don Shula will rightfully rip you a new one for doing so. You can at least take solace in the fact that you will never again in your life have a grown man yell at you that much.
Looking back, you won’t regret signing with Toronto—they simply made a better offer—but you’ll always have a part of you that knows that Don Shula was the kind of coach who could have gotten the most out of you. He was a demanding, tough disciplinarian, which I wish you had the wisdom to realize is exactly what you need at this phase of your life.
If it makes you feel any better, Coach Shula will eventually stop hating you … in a few decades.
Playing for the Toronto Argonauts is going to be quite a jolt for you. You’re going to learn that being a Heisman Trophy finalist doesn’t mean squat north of the border. At first you’ll wander the streets and think, “Wow, nobody here knows who I am—this is great!” But eventually this will turn into, “Wow … nobody here knows who I am—this is terrible.” You might think that playing in Toronto is a humbling experience, but let me tell you now: you don’t know anything about the word “humbled” yet, bud.
Theismann would eventually join the Redskins in 1974. But with Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen also in the building, he had to find other ways to see the field.
When you do come back stateside to play in the NFL, you’ll have to start from the bottom of the barrel, grinding it out on special teams as a punt returner for a couple years. During this time, you’ll also have the pleasure of sharing the quarterback meeting room with Billy Kilmer and Sonny Jurgensen, a couple of guys who hate your guts. Wait it out, you’ll get your shot and when you do, you’re going to make it count.
Then there was the night his career ended after a hit from Lawrence Taylor.
By 1985, all the accolades that you think makes a man great will have been attained. NFL Man of the Year, MVP and a Super Bowl trophy will all be yours. But what you’re going to learn is that an entire life can change in one snap.
One night, you’re going to get hurt. You’re going to get hurt bad. And at that point, you’re going to learn what’s truly important in this life. People will call what happens to you a tragedy, but it really isn’t. It’s a blessing.
At the time, you’ll have become so self-absorbed and wrapped up in your own celebrity that you won’t think that you need anybody. But a rude awakening will come when you get out of that hospital with your leg in a cast and go to the Redskins training facility. When you got there, your locker of 12 years will be occupied by another player. All your personal items will be stashed away in a box in the equipment room. This world you had let consume you doesn’t exist anymore.
Your emotional recovery will be much faster if you can come to terms with the fact that no amount of fame will give you joy if you can’t respect yourself. Others may lead you to believe you hold some higher importance because of your exploits on the field, but that kind of fame is fleeting. Find value for yourself, Joe. Find value in what you do. Appreciate your work and appreciate the people you work with, and don’t expect any favors because it’s just not going to happen.
While we’ve provided a snippet of his article, check out the whole thing here. It’s a great read.
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