I heard a pow-pow before I hit the ground. Then I yelled, ‘My leg is broken! My leg is broken!’ ” The season—and perhaps a career—had come to an abrupt end for Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann.
It happened in the second quarter of a nationally televised game against the New York Giants. As Theismann caught a lateral pass from running back John Riggins, a swarm of burly Giants jumped him. His lower right leg snapped like a dry branch. Even the game’s announcers seemed momentarily queasy. “Don’t look if you’re squeamish,” warned Frank Gifford, as a slow-motion replay showed the quarterback’s leg bending below the knee. Carried to the sidelines on a gurney, Theismann, 36, refused painkillers—not out of bravery but because, he says, “my leg was already numb.” He had, in fact, just one request: “Don’t let me go to the hospital without Cathy Lee.”
Cathy Lee Crosby, the former That’s Incredible! co-host and Theismann’s fiancée since September, had been watching the game from the private box of Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke. Cooke promised her a medical report as soon as he heard from the hospital, but Crosby decided not to wait. “Mr. Cooke, I’m gone,” she announced, as she dashed down stadium ramps to the field entrance where Joe’s ambulance was about to take off. “Our first words? We told each other that we love each other very much,” says Crosby, 41. “Then I joked that his punting game was finished.”
The couple held hands during the 20-minute ride to Arlington (Va.) Hospital, where Theismann requested a TV set so that he could watch the game while being prepped for surgery. “I didn’t want to go under until the team was out of the danger zone,” he says. But moments before the Redskins iced their 23-21 victory, Theismann was wheeled into the operating room and given a general anesthetic. As the compound fracture was being set, Crosby paced outside, her tanned face clearly worried. “I had just enough premed classes at USC to know that something could go wrong,” she said. In fact, the 30-minute operation was a success. Theismann, no stranger to football injuries—he has, for instance, broken his nose seven times—will wear a cast for three months, then undergo therapy. By May he promises to be at the Redskins’ minicamp in Herndon, Va. If he has considered retiring, he won’t admit it. Thinking about life without football, he says, “would defeat the healing process.”
But will the Redskins want him back? Already, second-string quarterback Jay Schroeder, 24, has captured the fans’—and his teammates’—fealty, winning the Giants game and then returning to beat the Steelers 30-23. Theismann, on the other hand, admits that he had had “probably the worst season of my career.” According to Washington Post sportswriter Christine Brennan, “The talk in the locker room is that the change is for the better.” Says Theismann: “I think they figure, ‘Good, we got him out of the way. Let’s start out with the fresh, new guy.’ ”
“No matter what happens, even if it’s adversity, we know we have each other,” chimes in Crosby, who has rarely left her fiancé’s side since the accident. Does she mind giving up her L.A. home and the couple’s 103-acre Virginia farm for a cramped hospital suite? “If two people can stay as much in love as we are in such a small space, there’s a lifetime of happiness ahead for us,” she says.
Ironically, Crosby has sold, and plans to appear in, a football movie she wrote called Training Camp. But there is no part in it for Theismann, at his insistence. Explains Crosby: “He says the acting’s for me.”
They do have other plans together. “Our wedding will definitely happen within the next year,” says Crosby, adding that it probably won’t be for at least three months. “Honeymoons,” she quips, “don’t work with leg casts.”