Former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann is almost as famous for being a broadcaster as he is a football player. He served as color commentator for ESPN’s Sunday Night Football from 1988 to 2005, where he was known for saying almost as many stupid things as longtime color man John Madden. In fact, one thing that Theismann said almost always comes up on “stupidest things anyone’s ever said” lists:
“Nobody in the game of football should be called a genius. A genius is somebody like Norman Einstein.”
Everyone assumes that Theismann, a dumb jock, meant to say Albert Einstein. But the truth is more complicated than that. Perhaps Theismann did mean to say Albert Einstein… or maybe he was thinking of Norman Einstein, a former classmate of his at South River High School and the valedictorian of his class.
Yes, folks, there really is a Norman Einstein. He is an emergency room physician at Catawba Valley Medical Center in nearby Hickory, North Carolina. Here is his contact info. According to this Reader’s Digest article about the flub,
“‘I was a senior when he was a sophomore,’ Dr. Einstein said. As boys, they lived just blocks apart. ‘We played a little bit of basketball, touch football-that kind of stuff.’ But they weren’t close friends: Theismann was a jock, Einstein a brain. Einstein graduated in 1965 and was the class valedictorian. He attended Rutgers University and then medical school at Tufts University. Theismann headed to the NFL. Twenty-seven years later, in a corner of the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Norman Einstein’s name popped back into Joe Theismann’s head.”
For the record, Sports Illustrated also ran an article about Einstein, but I can’t find it online.
So yes, Theismann misspoke. But his flub isn’t as stupid as it at first sounds.
In case you’ve never seen the video, here’s a short YouTube video about the hit Theismann took from Lawrence Taylor that ended his football career. If you’ve never seen it before, a bit of warning: it’s one of the most stomach-churning videos you’ll ever see:
Yep. That right leg is broken.