The forgotten 'me'

At the WorkWave Beyond Service User Conference, former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann told attendees to check in with themselves.

Former NFL quarterback Joe Theismann is an advocate for talking to yourself. 

In just over an hour of speaking to the crowd at WorkWave’s Beyond Service User Conference, Theismann covered a lot of ground. He talked about his one-game stint as an emergency punter, where he booted a punt that traveled only a mere one net yard (then an NFL record). He poked fun at a Cleveland Browns fan, running out into the crowd to show off a Super Bowl ring that he told the fan he’d never see. He mentioned the salaries of current players like Patrick Mahomes and broke down why shoulder issues complicated the mechanics in other players like Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield.  

And, of course, he recapped the play that will forever be recognized as one of the most gruesome sports injuries seen on live television. Theismann himself can narrate the 1985 play nearly step-by-step, where a hit by Lawrence Taylor caused a compound fracture to Theismann’s tibia and fibula on his right leg. 

Of course, the lessons for the conference attendees were not just about Super Bowls and gruesome injuries. Theismann’s message around his infamous injury was a focus on checking in with yourself, something anyone — football player or not — can apply.  

“The last few years for us have been really trying. It’s given all of us an opportunity to look at our business relationships, our personal relationships, but even more importantly, our relationships we have with ourselves,” Theismann said. “So often ‘me’ gets forgotten,” 

On the night of his leg injury, he had checked in with himself. Theismann was amid a turbulent season, and it was time to have a heart-to-heart at his locker before kickoff of that Monday night football game. He remembers telling himself that his life was going to change forever.  

“Little did I know I was into prophecy,” he said. 

Theismann didn’t want his football career to end that night; he just wanted to rediscover a rhythm that helped him win 1983 NFL MVP honors. For a period of time, he felt like being a world champion once was enough. His check-in at his locker the night his career effectively ended was about recapturing his drive to be better. 

Likewise, he said many companies feel they’ve done enough to be successful without realizing there’s even more room for accomplishment. Some people in business have operated the same way for years without embracing the idea their companies could be larger.  

“I tried to live on yesterday’s performance,” he said. “You can’t live on the laurels of what you accomplished the day before.” 

This was one of several messages Theismann broke down during his keynote address.  

LET’S HEAR IT. Theismann believes cheering for yourself (and for others) is critically important. He tasked attendees with recalling the last time they woke up, looked at themselves in the mirror and felt proud. 

When’s the last time you congratulated yourselves?” he asked attendees. “Embrace who you are today. It’s important that you wrap your arms around it.” 

Of course, it’s just as important to cheer for others, too. Theismann said it’s incredible what types of things stick with people, whether it’s attending a kid’s dance recital or pointing out an employee’s good job during a work meeting.  

To illustrate this, Theismann pointed to his Ring of Fame ceremony, which he shared with former Washington running back John Riggins. Just before the ceremony began, Theismann stood alone, waiting for Riggins to join him on the field to be honored alongside him. But Riggins was nowhere to be found. 

Then, he heard the crowd begin to roar. Riggins had run out of the tunnel again in front of the fans just like he used to do as a player. When Theismann asked Riggins why the extra fanfare, the answer was quite simple. 

“’Joe, I had to hear it one more time,’” Theismann remembered Riggins saying. 

ALL THE LITTLE DETAILS. Theismann acknowledges he’s probably a pretty smart guy. Quarterbacks in the NFL have to memorize hundreds of plays and then change them week by week, so it takes some shred of intelligence to play the position. 

It also takes an acute sense of detail, Theismann said. If he closes his eyes, he can still envision the 1985 Chicago Bears defense and the way it lined up against him during their 45-10 beatdown that season. Similarly, he knows that after he got into the restaurant business that same year, the best way to appeal to customers was to envision the same level of detail. He started asking his hosts who answered phones to include their names when answering the phones.  

When he asks CEOs who the most important person in a business is, Theismann said he’s often told it’s the person who answers the phone. 

“It’s the little things that differentiate us that make the biggest difference in customer service,” he said. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That is the essence of customer service.” 

FIND YOUR WHY. Theismann knows from firsthand experience that fear is a great motivator. Even at his athletic peak, he could not run a 40-yard dash faster than former lineman Reggie White, who turned out to be an inductee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  

That said, when they played in a game, Theismann outran him when White came barreling toward him. Why? Because fear was his motivator. 

Beyond the football field, Theismann encouraged attendees to find something they take pride in. Check in with yourself and ask what makes you want to wake up and get moving in the mornings. Whatever that might be – kids, employees, revenue, or outrunning a man trying to tackle you as hard as you can – make it the centerpiece of your decision-making process, Theismann said. 

“I don’ know what flips your switch, I don’t know what gets you going,” Theismann said. “All I know is life is so precious.” 

Once you find the “why,” write down the goals. Theismann estimates that 98% of people don’t actually jot down their short- and long-term ambitions. He remembers walking into meetings with coaches where they had goals listed for the offense, defense and special teams groups. Likewise, most companies have some revenue goals listed somewhere in the office. 

“Yet in our own lives, we don’t take the time to write down what we want. We don’t bring it out into the physical universe,” Theismann said. “What are you looking for? Write it down. You’ll be amazed how your life starts to go in that direction because it has direction.” 


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