Theismann’s inspiring words ring true in months after Boca Y talk

Football great Joe Theismann addresses the YMCA of South Palm Beach County’s 18th Annual Inspiration Breakfast and fundraiser March 4. Photo by Dale King.

By: Dale King
Contributing Writer

When championship quarterback and entrepreneur Joe Theismann delivered an uplifting message to the crowd at the YMCA of South Palm Beach County’s 18th Annual Inspiration Breakfast on March 4, he couldn’t have known how badly the community – and the world – would need to hear courageous commentary in the weeks ahead.

“Life is about taking chances,” the keynote speaker told the audience in the Office Depot headquarters in Boca Raton last month. “You have to make yourself uncomfortable. The day you stop learning is the day you stop living.”

Barely two weeks after his talk, a pandemic of historic proportion changed the lives of everyone on the planet. Coronavirus would arrive invisibly, prohibiting crowds as large as the one that heard Washington Redskins signal caller Theismann speak that day. A disease of unknown ferocity would force hoarding, crush the stock market, frighten billions and cause fears of death and illness to soar.

Something Theismann said that morning recalled an incident that painfully altered his own life — and may be in own thoughts. “No matter how great we are, it can end in an instant.”

Theismann’s grid career abruptly halted Nov. 18, 1985 when he suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula in his right leg while being sacked by New York Giants’ linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson during a Monday Night Football game on ABC.

“The pain was unbelievable; it snapped like a breadstick,” he told the hushed Y gathering. “It sounded like two muffled gunshots off my left shoulder.”

One might say he had it coming.  As a winning pro quarterback, he admitted: “I became an ego out of control. Everything revolved around me. I had become selfish and all full of myself.”

At this point in his address, the keynote speaker began to reflect on his horrific injury. “The 55,000 people in the stands gave this selfish man who thought he needed absolutely no one a chance to see that you need other people in your lives – like you need the Y.”

He used that message to inspire personal growth and stressed what the Y does best – give kids the courage, strength and ability to move successfully through life.

After leaving football at age 36, Theismann worked as a sportscaster and an analyst on pro football broadcasts with ESPN for nearly 20 years.  Since 2011, he has been part of the Redskins’ pre-season television broadcast team.

The 70-year-old ex-grid star spent 12 seasons with the Washington Redskins. He helped the team to consecutive Super Bowl appearances, winning Super Bowl XVII over the Miami Dolphins and losing Super Bowl XVIII. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.

He used humor throughout his Y speech, including one comment that tripped up a follower of another team.

“Is anyone here a Cleveland Browns fan?” he asked. A man in the rear motioned to him.

Theismann walked to the back of the room and held out his hand. “See this? It’s a Super Bowl ring. You’ll never see one of these.”

The Y’s annual inspiration breakfast raises money to support scholarships for youth development programs, providing everyone, regardless of income, with the opportunity to participate in YMCA programs.

The speaker gave his support to the Y’s efforts by signing 15 footballs that were presented to donors who contributed to the organizations’ cause. By means of table challenges and matching donations, the Y raised $287,785 just in the period after breakfast.

Theismann talked about the importance of the Y, at one point walking among several placards on the stage and telling how the Y stands for various values and principals. “At the Y, you see your dollars at work,” he noted, and he admonished those who contributed: “Don’t let this be the only day you give.”

The former quarterback is the owner of Theismann’s Restaurant and Bar in Alexandria, Va., which he founded in 1975. He also speaks at corporate events, on topics such as leadership and self-motivation.