Lawrence Taylor remembers Joe Theismann's brutal injury

Joe Theismann never played another NFL game after getting carted off the field with a brutal leg injury. Nate Fine/Getty Images

This story is excerpted from "My Giant Life" by Lawrence Taylor with Williams Wyatt. To buy the book, click here. Thirty-one years ago today, Joe Theismann suffered a career-ending injury at the hands of Taylor. The Hall of Fame defender describes what that scene was like.

Joe Theismann and I are linked forever because of an unfortunate incident that happened on November 18, 1985, during a Monday night game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., against the Redskins.

At the beginning of the second quarter, Theismann handed off to John Riggins. The Diesel bulled toward the middle of the line, putting his head down for the impact. Then he changed his tack, stopping and flipping the ball back to Theismann. They were trying a flea flicker. Theismann wanted to throw downfield to Art Monk.

Unfortunately for the Redskins and Theismann, we read the play correctly. We were blitzing. It felt like our entire defense was pouring in on Theismann. I got a hold of him and pulled him down. As we went to the ground, my knee rammed into his lower right leg; Harry Carson and Gary Reasons also congregated at Theismann on the sack. He didn't get up. I didn't expect him to, either. I knew he'd been hurt badly.

Theismann later told the New York Times in a 2005 interview: "The pain was unbelievable, it snapped like a breadstick. It sounded like two muzzled gunshots off my left shoulder. Pow, pow! It was at that point, I also found out what a magnificent machine the human body is. 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."

Everybody on the field saw Theismann sprawled out on the field and knew he was in trouble. I know I started hollering for the doctors to get to him in a hurry to give him some help. Initially, some of the Redskins thought I was taunting after the sack. That obviously wasn't the case.

It's just one of those things that happened. I knew he was hurt when I heard him under the pile yelling and I understood. That's why I tried to get everybody off him and get some help for him. I knew when you're sitting on the bottom of the pile -- I don't care if it's a toe sprain, or an ankle sprain, I don't care what it is -- it seems like forever, like the people on top of you are never going to figure it out. All you want is the people to get off of you and to get some help. And to breathe again.

Everybody just kind of stood around like nobody knew what had happened.

At that juncture of his career, Theismann was still a decent football player and an icon in Washington. Of course, I'd been playing against him for years. And during our time, we spent a lot of time together and we'd see each other a lot. Just like anybody else, you hate to see somebody sit there and suffer. So I wanted to get some help out there for the sumbitch.

What happened? He fractured both the tibia and the fibula. In other words, the lower leg bones in his right leg were broken between his ankle and knee. That end result left his leg bent gruesomely in different directions.

A lot of time passed before they quit tending to Joe and got him off the field and on his way to the hospital. Jay Schroeder took over at quarterback. Nobody knew at the time that Theismann would never play again.

An ESPN poll of viewers later voted that play as the NFL's "Most Shocking Moment in History."

Really, it's not a moment I want to remember or care to see again. I've never seen the play. Football is a tough game, so players are always going to get hurt while playing the game. That's one of the hazards of the job. Believe me; I've seen a lot worse hits on film than the one on Joe, though. Everyone who thinks they know me wants to talk about that Monday Night Football game. First of all, like I said, I have never watched the play, don't won't to watch it, and I never will watch it. I saw it in person. I don't want to see it again.

I remember calling him the morning after I broke his leg. A woman answered the phone. I don't know if she was his girlfriend or wife at the time. I hear her say, "Joe, Joe, that guy is on the phone!" When he got on the phone, he told me that I had broken both the bones in his leg. I kidded him by telling him that I didn't do anything half-assed. I told him, "If I'm going to break them, I'm going to break them both."

To Joe's credit, he never blamed me for what happened. We've never had a problem. I've never had a problem with Joe. And every time we see each other, we talk. We talked before then, we still talk, and there is no animosity there. I know his son very well. Hey, I did [Theismann] a favor. He had Lloyd's of London [insurance]. He made about $3 million.

Joe had a helluva a career, and he did well after the NFL. But he's always maintained that his legacy is that injury. As he told the Orlando Sentinel, "I'll forever be known as the Godfather of Broken Legs."

This excerpt from "My Giant Life" by Lawrence Taylor with William Wyatt is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit this link.