The Worst Game of Joe Theismann’s Career


On Friday, Rob Phillips of, released a Top Ten list of the best Cowboy players to never make a Pro-Bowl. It was a pretty cool piece, as are most of Phillips’ weekly Top Ten list. However, the part on Dennis Thurman really caught my attention because it referenced the worst game of Joe Theismann’s career. That day was September 9, 1985, and, as Phillips said, it was Joe’s thirty-sixth birthday.

I was four years old in 1985 so I can’t say for certain, but based on this performance and the fact that he suffered a career ending compound leg fracture in November, I’m going to guess that 1985 was probably the worst year of Theismann’s career. I certainly won’t celebrate Joe’s gruesome leg injury, but his five interception birthday game is a different story. Anytime we can reflect back on a Redskins quarterback tossing five picks against the Cowboys, we need to take advantage of that. Like Roy Williams said, there are some of us that are benefiting from this lock-out. If it weren’t for a total lack of news, I probably wouldn’t dedicate an entire post to the worst game of Theismann’s career.

When trying to find more info on this game, I turned to the first place any self respecting blogger would go in this situation — Youtube. And, true to form, Youtube paid off. While I couldn’t find the entire game — not that I thought I would anyway — I did find footage of all five Theismann interceptions from that night. Interestingly, Phillips was actually wrong about the facts. Theismann did throw five interceptions, but the one Dennis Thurman returned for a touchdown at the end of the game was actually interception number six and it came off Jay Schroeder after the birthday boy had been pulled from the game.

By the way, the commentary on this game is pretty great. The combination of pre-Kathy-Lee Frank Gifford, pre-kissing-Suzy-Kolber Joe Namath, and pre-sociopath OJ is worth much more now than it was then. If only we knew.

Interception #1: Michael Downs

In 1985, Art Monk caught 92 balls for 1,226 yards. In other words, Theismann threw to him a lot. On this play, he never tried to hide the fact that he wanted to throw to Monk. He audibled to the Redskin receiver before the play and then never took his eyes off him. He tried to hit Monk on a seam route, but failed to account for the over the top safety — Downs. One common thing with most of the interceptions that happened that night, the Cowboys’ secondary made some great breaks on the ball. This play by Downs seemed to set a tone.

Interception #2: Everson Walls

Everson intercepted nine passes in 1985 and this was the first. Everson was such a stud — nine picks. Mike Jenkins has seven for his career. Just like he did on his first interception, Theismann stared down his receiver, but the most impressive part of the play was Walls’ incredible break. It was interesting that Frank Gifford commented on Everson’s lack of speed because he looked like Flash Gordon on that play.

Interception #3: Ron Fellows

At least this time Theismann went through a progression or two before making an ill advised throw. Joe misread the zone and simply didn’t see Fellows. Of the five, I’d say that this pick was the most excusable.

Interception #4: Bill Bates

Watching Bill Bates get one off Theismann was one of my favorite parts of this clip. I also think it’s between this one and number five for worst pick of the game. Tight end Clint Didier, Joe’s intended target, ran a five yard out. Not only did he have Bates covering him over the top, but strong safety Dexter Clinksdale was also waiting underneath in the flat. Theismann forced the throw anyway and Clinksdale deflected it to Bates. Theismann was lucky. Interceptions in the flat often result in six for the defense.

Interception #5: Victor Scott

Scott, a former Colorado Buffalo, had five interceptions in his career, but I’m betting he remembers this one the most. I guess Theismann had a lot of faith in Clint Didier because he didn’t seem to mind throwing to him when he was covered. And to say that Didier was covered on this play is a bit of an understatement. He was smothered. Once again, Theismann stared down his receiver, but this time his receiver was Scott. Seriously, he was looking right at Scott for a pretty good amount of time before he hit him right in the chest. I realize that Theismann was a very good quarterback, but this was one of the worst decisions you’ll ever see.

Interception #6: Dennis Thurman

First of all, pay close attention to what OJ Simpson is saying at the start of this play. He’s talking about how in Buffalo, when they were losing, he and his teammates would seek retribution on the opponents. Knowing what we know now, I’d say this sounds about right.

Anyway, this was just a big ole’ eff-you pick six by Thurman. Like I said earlier, Theismann didn’t throw it, but it was a pretty play nonetheless — great read, great break. We could use another Dennis Thurman in the Dallas secondary. I think that the DBs should be forced to watch this video before every practice. It seems like it’s been forever since we had a true ball hawking secondary like Thurman’s Thieves.

I hope everyone has a good Sunday. Perhaps Monday will bring us some positive lock-out news.

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