Joe Theismann Readies for His 34th American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe

Former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann led his team, the Washington Redskins, to two Superbowls. He has the rings to prove it. He led the team to one Superbowl victory, in 1983. And in 1984, he got the team to the Superbowl, but the Raiders triumphed. These days, instead of throwing passes and setting records, Theismann is working on his golf game.
Joe Theismann - American Century Championship
Joe Theismann - American Century Championship / Jonathan Devich/GettyImages

After talking to Joe Theismann for The Golf Show 2.0 video podcast in advance of the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe, he sounds the same and looks nearly the same as he did all those years ago. He’s energetic, animated, and speaks with authority on many subjects, some serious and some downright, hysterically funny. Like his claim to hold the NFL record for worst punter. He may have been a horrible punter, but he wasn't a bad punt returner.

As it turns out, Joe Theismann returned punts in high school and in college at Notre Dame.   

“I actually started my first seven games at the University of Notre Dame as a sophomore. I was a punt returner,” Theismann explained.

The skill came in handy. In 1974, while playing the Giants, the Redskins lost both punt returners.

“I snuck up behind George Allen, our coach, and said, ‘Kenny’s hurt (Kenny Houston). You want me to go in?’”

Allen, clearly concentrating on something else, waved Theismann in. Then Allen turned to the special teams coach and asked what Theismann was doing out there. The special teams coach replied that Allen had sent him in.

“He says, ’Get him off the field!’” Theismann recalled.  

However, Theismann said Allen was all about letting players do things that they were capable of doing, and for the next two years, Theismann returned punts for the Redskins. 

But it was his punting that was abysmal.

“I have a one-yard average,” Theismann said. “I was a record holder in the National Football League for a number of years because I'm such a lousy punter. They claim Shawn Letta has one at minus six, but I find that I'm disputing that. I think I'm the worst punter in the history of football.”

He said he’s holding on to that title as long as he can.

His one-yard punt came against the Bears in 1985, which was the season that the Bears won the NFC and went to the Superbowl and won it. It was also the season when Theismann had a career-ending injury.

“It was the third game of the season. Our punt returner, our punter and our kickoff guy got hurt, and so I went into the game,” Theismann said.

By that time, Joe Gibbs was the coach of the Redskins. Theismann told him he could punt. Soon Theismann was on the field. Then he set the record.

“I'm standing on the goal line. Ball's on the 15-yard line, and we've got a 10-7 lead, and I figured Danny White had punted for the Dallas Cowboys and was their quarterback, so if he could do it why not me?”

White was a bit more accomplished at punting than Theismann turned out to be.

“The ball went 16 yards,” he explained. “That’s one net yard.  So, I am the worst punter in the history of football!”

However, it turned out that football led Joe Theismann to golf.

It was while playing for the Toronto Argonauts in Canada that he picked the game up. He calls it a continual work in progress.

“You know when you get older, there's this fight to preserve the youth that you had, thinking you could hit clubs the same distance you did when you were younger,” he admitted.

Recently he got new clubs with lighter shafts which have been his Fountain of Youth.  

“I've had 65-gram shafts for a long time in my irons, and I just knocked it down to 50, and I played with the set the other day, and you know I shot 74,” he said about his recent switch. It was one of his lower scores this year. “My 7-iron went from 155 to 135. Changed the shaft, all of a sudden, I'm back up to 150.”

Theismann recommends a shaft change for anyone getting older who has the same problem he did.  He said it also takes stress off his body and gives him a lot more confidence that he can hit shots the distance he wants to.

To find out how his golf game is coming along, watch Joe Theismann at the American Century Championship on NBC and Golf Channel, July 12th through the 14th.

There’s even a fantasy contest with a first prize of $10,000 for your favorite charity and a trip for two to Lake Tahoe for the 2025 version of the tournament.

In addition to the story about being the worst punter in the NFL and his latest golf equipment change, Theismann discussed pay for college athletes, transfer portals, Scottie Scheffler, pro-ams, the street recently named after him in South River, N.J., and more in the full interview.