SAN FRANCISCO — In 1982, when CBS hired Mean Joe Greene as a football commentator, his new bosses figured he needed a practice run. So they sent play-by-play announcer Frank Glieber and Greene to San Francisco to work together on an exhibition game between the Raiders and San Francisco 49ers.
It was strictly a dry run, not for airing. A good thing, too. When it came time for Greene to say something, there was silence. Greene, whose TV career didn't last long, froze. He couldn't think of anything to say.
That hardly figures to happen to Joe Theismann, who will be in the booth Sunday during ABC's telecast of the Super Bowl. If anything, he'll talk too much.
"I will \o7 not\f7 talk too much," Theismann told reporters at a press conference here the other night. "Now that should take care of the question most of you were going to ask."
He made that comment after he had:
--Said he would be able to provide different observations because his team, the Washington Redskins, had lost to both the 49ers and Miami Dolphins this season.
--Said that pro football had undergone some changes in recent years and that he would be able to provide insight into current events.
--Said that he did not believe he was replacing O.J. Simpson in the booth, but rather just joining a five-man team that also included booth partners Frank Gifford and Don Meredith and Dallas Coach Tom Landry, who will work on the pregame and halftime shows with Simpson.
--Said that this game was not a showcase for Joe Theismann, that the game was the important thing.
--Said that he and Simpson are friends.
--Said that this would be the finest telecast of a Super Bowl ever done.
You get the idea. He wasn't at a loss for words.
His penchant for talking is a concern to ABC. "We've talked to him about it," Roone Arledge, president of ABC Sports and News, said after the press conference. "And we'll be plugged into his ear Sunday so we can remind him not to talk so much if it's a problem."
The Super Bowl won't be the first game Theismann has worked as a commentator. He and Harry Kalas did the Mizlou telecast of the Liberty Bowl in which Ohio State defeated Navy in December of 1981. He also had a practice run two weeks ago.
Theismann, Gifford and Meredith sat in an ABC studio in New York watching the CBS telecast of the NFC championship game between the 49ers and the Chicago Bears and pretended to be announcing it.
Arledge was asked if the practice run was an audition for Theismann.
"We were 90%--no make that 95%--certain we were going to use Joe in the booth," Arledge said. "His performance clinched it, though."
During the press conference, Arledge said that if the Redskins had qualified for the Super Bowl, 49er quarterback Joe Montana would have been in the booth. Later, Arledge was asked if he had thought of also bringing in another coach or player to replace Meredith.
"We had talked about a lot of different combinations," he said.
In introducing Simpson at the press conference, Arledge said that Simpson will return to the booth next season. A reporter later asked if that comment meant Simpson has signed for next season.
Simpson said he has not signed a new contract, but added with a smile: "You all heard what Roone said."
This time Arledge said: "I \o7 think\f7 O.J. will be back."
After the press conference, Arledge was asked about the status of both Meredith and Simpson. In light of sagging ratings, will they be back?
"I can't say yes and I can't say no," he said. "We'll sit down and evaluate things later. I think the main reason for the drop in ratings the past couple of seasons has been the schedule.
"We're going to talk to the NFL about getting a better schedule, but the problem is the league can't give us a better schedule without hurting CBS and NBC. We have a good relationship with the NFL, and I hope something can be worked out."
Social note: Theismann's fiancee, Cathy Lee Crosby, was at the press conference and afterward, while a group of reporters talked with Theismann, this reporter talked with Crosby.
She said she and Joe are living together on a farm they bought outside Leesburg, Va., and plan to marry after his divorce is final March 1.
She said they met while both were at a Special Olympics event in Vermont. "He kept calling me until I finally agreed to go out with him . . . I love him very much and plan to spend the rest of my life with him."
Crosby, no relation to the late Bing Crosby, is a Southern California native who attended USC and was one of the top-ranked amateur tennis players in the country. The 36-year-old actress is best known for her work on the defunct ABC show, "That's Incredible."