Joe Theismann: 'I turned away' during Alex Smith's leg injury

When Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith was lost for the season on Sunday after breaking the tibia and fibula in his right leg on a second half play against the Houston Texans, it immediately brought back memories of Joe Theismann and the similar injury he suffered while in a Washington uniform.

Incredibly, Smith’s injury happened 33 years to the day after Theismann’s. And for the former MVP, the bad memories came flooding back.

‘I turned away’

The 69-year-old Theismann was at FedEx Field for the game, and saw Smith go down. But he couldn’t watch more after that.

“I saw a pile of people go down, and then I saw Alex’s leg in the position it was in. And I turned away after that,” Theismann told Associated Press NFL reporter Howard Fendrich. “It brought back vivid memories.”

See photos of the gruesome injury: 

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Redskins QB Alex Smith suffers horrifying leg injury
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Redskins QB Alex Smith suffers horrifying leg injury
LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 18: Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (11), center, is sacked and injured by Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99), right, Houston Texans strong safety Kareem Jackson (25) during a game between the Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans at FedEX Field on November 18, 2018, in Landover, MD. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (11) ankle is injured as he is sacked by Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) and Houston Texans strong safety Kareem Jackson (25) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018 in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 18: PLEASE CLEAR USE OF THIS IMAGE WITH A PHOTO EDITOR OR MATT VITA OF MATT RENNIE. Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (11), center, is sacked and injured by Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99), right, Houston Texans strong safety Kareem Jackson (25) during a game between the Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans at FedEX Field on November 18, 2018, in Landover, MD. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith, bottom, slides under Houston Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph (24) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 18: Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (11) reacts to an injury in the third quarter during a game between the Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans at FedEX Field on November 18, 2018, in Landover, MD. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 18: Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson (26) grimaces as he checks on Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (11) as he lays injured on the turf in the third quarter of the game between the Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans at FedEx Field on, November 18, 2018. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith, bottom, reacts after an injury during the second half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
LANDOVER, MD - NOVEMBER 18: Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (11) is lifted up to be carted off the field in a game between the Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans at FedEx Field on, November 18, 2018. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Houston Texans strong safety Kareem Jackson (25) reaches for Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (11) as he leaves the field after an injury during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018 in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 18: Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith (11) is carted off the field in the third quarter at FedEx Field after a bad injury. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor brought Theismann down from behind on Nov. 18, 1985, a moment that is, unfortunately, an indelible part of NFL history. The impact of the play snapped Theismann’s tibia and fibula, also in his right leg. One of the bones broke through the skin.

“This date has always been a day in my life that I’ll never forget,” Theismann said.

Sending sympathy and support

Theismann immediately sent tweets about Smith’s injury, first noting that it was exactly like his, and then one of sympathy.

He told Fendrich that he has sent Smith a text message of support.

“My immediate thought was that my heart went out to him. I feel so bad for him,” Theismann said. “I know the road ahead. We’re somewhat similar in age [when the injuries happened]. He’s not 25 or 26 years of age. I was 35; he’s 34. How long will it take to come back? What is the severity?

“I worry less about Alex and his football career than I do Alex and wanting to be able to do the things in life he wants to do.”

There was so much bone damage in Theismann’s leg that once he was healed his right leg was a little shorter. He never played again after that November day.

Look back at the aftermath of Theismann's injury: 

10 PHOTOS
Joe Theismann suffers broken leg: November 18, 1985
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Joe Theismann suffers broken leg: November 18, 1985
Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann lies on the ground after being injured on the second play of the second quarter during their game with the New York Giants Monday night Nov 19, 1985 in Washington. Theismann suffered a compound fracture of the lower right leg on the play. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 18: Curtis Jordan (22) weeps over Joe Theismann, lying prone after a sack by Lawrence Taylor resulted in his season ending broken leg. (Photo by Harry Hamburg/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Quarterback Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins is carted off the field by medical staff after having his leg broken by Giants defensive end Lawrence Taylor in a 21 to 23 overtime win over the New York Giants on November 18, 1985 at RFK Stadium in Washington DC. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images)
Quarterback Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins is carted off the field by medical staff after having his leg broken by Giants defensive end Lawrence Taylor (56) in a 21 to 23 overtime win over the New York Giants on November 18, 1985 at RFK Stadium in Washington DC. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 18: Quarterback Joe Theismann #7 of the Washington Redskins is helped by teammate Mark May #73 and others after being injured when sacked by linebacker Lawrence Taylor #56 of the New York Giants during a Monday Night Football game at RFK Stadium on November 18, 1985 in Washington, DC. Theismann suffered a broken leg. Talking with Taylor is defensive lineman Leonard Marshall. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Quarterback Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins is carted off the field by medical staff after having his leg broken by Giants defensive end Lawrence Taylor in a 21 to 23 overtime win over the New York Giants on November 18, 1985 at RFK Stadium in Washington DC. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images)
Quarterback Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins is carted off the field by medical staff after having his leg broken by Giants defensive end Lawrence Taylor (56) in a 21 to 23 overtime win over the New York Giants on November 18, 1985 at RFK Stadium in Washington DC. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images)
Quarterback Joe Theismann of the Washington Redskins is carted off the field by medical staff after having his leg broken by Giants defensive end Lawrence Taylor in a 21 to 23 overtime win over the New York Giants on November 18, 1985 at RFK Stadium in Washington DC. (Photo by Nate Fine/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON DC - NOVEMBER 18, 1985: Quarterback Joe Theismann #7 of the Washington Redskins is taken off of the field after he was injured suffering from a comminuted compound fracture of his right leg while being sacked by New York Giants linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson on November 18, 1985 at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. Theismann played for the Redskins from 1974-85. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann gestures as he is carried off the field at R.F.K. Stadium Monday night Nov. 18, 1985 in Washington. Theismann injured his right leg during second quarter action. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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Smith, Washington face uncertain future

There’s no knowing at this point how Smith will heal, though of course there have been advances in medicine over the 33 years since Theismann’s injury.

This was his first season in Washington, having been traded to the team from Kansas City during Super Bowl week. He signed a four-year, $94 million extension with Washington in March.

Washington finished the game with Colt McCoy at quarterback, but McCoy is the only other quarterback currently on the roster; the team is bringing in several players for a tryout on Monday (it’s largely a terrible list), and coach Jay Gruden said the hope is to sign one by the end of the day.

Washington fell to 6-4 with the loss to Houston, but for now remains atop the NFC East.

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