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Back in November of 1985, football fans witnessed one of the most gruesome injuries during a Monday Night Football game between the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants. Washington quarterback Joe Theismann broke both his fibula and tibia as Lawrence Taylor sacked him on the play. Theismann’s leg bent the way it wasn’t supposed to and he never played a down of football again. Theismann said as ugly as his injury was, it wasn’t as bad as the one suffered by another former Washington quarterback, Alex Smith.

Joe Theismann’s gruesome injury

Joe Theismann played his last NFL game on Nov. 18, 1985, and it wasn’t by choice. Theismann failed to fake out Lawrence Taylor on a flea-flicker play and Taylor sacked the Washington quarterback on the play. Taylor immediately knew something was wrong and quickly signaled for the trainers to tend to the quarterback.

In a 2005 Washington Post article, Theismann reflected on the injury that ended his career. Theismann said he couldn’t find an open receiver and felt the pressure coming from Taylor. “At that point, I was feeling some pressure, and the next thing I knew, I heard what sounded like a shotgun going off — Pow! Pow! — and felt this excruciating pain,” he told The Washington Post. “Then I was on the ground.”

As devastating as the injury was, Theismann said he quickly was pain free. “It was at that point, I also found out what a magnificent machine the human body is,” Theismann said. “Almost immediately, from the knee down, all the feeling was gone in my right leg. The endorphins had kicked in, and I was not in pain. I remember looking up and seeing Bubba (Tyer, the team trainer) being on my left side. I looked at him and said, ‘Please call my mom and tell her I’m okay.’ Joe (Gibbs) was kneeling on my right side. He’s looking at me and he says, ‘You mean so much to this club, and now you’ve left me in one heck of a mess.'”

Alex Smith suffers an injury similar to Theismann’s

It’s almost too strange to be true. Like Joe Theismann, Alex Smith was playing for the Washington Redskins and suffered nearly the same injury. Smith’s injury also occurred on Nov. 18, happening 33 years after Theismann’s. Smith also broke his filula and tibia.

Smith went down in a game against the Houston Texans after he was brought down by J.J. Watt. Theismann was at the game. “It was just an eerie moment,” Theismann told ESPN after the game. “It was surreal. You see him go down in a pile and then there’s a shot that showed his leg bent and I turned away right after that. I feel so bad for him.”

Like Theismann, Smith hasn’t played a down since his injury. It’s still up in the air whether he’ll be able to get back on the field or if he’ll even want to get back and play. Smith was recently medically cleared to return to football.

Theismann said Smith’s injury was much worse


Alex Smith’s and Joe Theismann’s Injuries Are Eerily Similar in More Ways Than You Think

According to ESPN, both Joe Theismann and Alex Smith had the bone protruding through their skin when they suffered their injuries. Theismann, however, needed one surgery to clear up any infection, while Smith underwent 17 procedures. Smith nearly lost his leg and then developed sepsis, which put his life at risk.

Theismann said Smith had to deal with much more than he ever had to. “He has gone through a lot more than I had to go through,” Theismann told ESPN. “For me it was a question of the leg healing and then trying to do certain things required of the quarterback position. Alex came within 24 hours of losing his leg. I didn’t wind up with complications; he wound up with a tremendous amount of complications. It wasn’t just healing from a broken leg. The mountain he had to climb is so much greater.”

Theismann said he wouldn’t be surprised if Smith was out there playing again. “You know how hard Alex has worked,” Theismann said. “Before his injury the man carried rocks under water as part of his training. You know how important it is to him and it shows how important football is to him. A lot of people would have said, ‘Why put yourself through this?’ Then again, I don’t think a lot of people understand the athlete. It’s not about the money, it’s about the love of the game and the love of competition. That’s what’s driven Alex.”