DAVID GREENE, HOST:
You know what this means.
(SOUNDBITE OF "MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL" THEME MUSIC)
GREENE: Yes, to some like me, the sound of the fall. To others, a signal that you're not going to see your spouse or good friend on Sunday afternoons, because they've disappeared into the bar or man cave. Yes, NFL football begins tonight with the New York Giants battling the Dallas Cowboys and then much more action this weekend.
And to preview the season, we've called up someone who knows a thing or two about pro football. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Theismann is on the line.
JOE THEISMANN: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So, I got to ask you, some seasons we're talking about who has the stingiest defense or flashy wide receivers. But this feels like the year of the quarterback, and it begins in the Big Apple. Is it Tim Tebow time in New York?
THEISMANN: I really don't think so. But you're right when you talk about not just this year, but this year and last year combined. About one-third of the National Football League will start quarterbacks that will get their first starts either in 2012, or had started in 2011. As far as Tim goes, Tim is probably one of the greatest stories we've seen come along in the National Football League in a long, long time.
GREENE: Yeah, a lot of headlines.
THEISMANN: But as far as just the ability to be able to play the quarterback position, he's not anywhere near where he would like to be, or I think anybody would hope he would be. But from a personality standpoint, it's off the charts.
GREENE: But Mark Sanchez, the New York Jets' other quarterback is actually going to be starting the first week of the season. And you had a comment on the air about Mark Sanchez, saying he was lacking.
THEISMANN: No, it's time to step up. When you have someone come in that threatens your job, I think you can approach it one of two ways. You can be Mr. Nice Guy. Or you can say, hey, it's great to have Tim here as a part of this team, I'm looking forward to working with him - but it's my football team.
GREENE: Well, let's turn to Tim Tebow's former team the Denver Broncos. It's quite a storyline out in the Rockies. Peyton Manning, at age 36, trying for a comeback after this career-threatening neck injury. What do you think so far?
THEISMANN: Well, I hope Peyton gets through this season healthy. But I know when I hit 35, my arm was different. Now, he has a little bit of nerve issues in his arm. So I think there are more questions about Peyton Manning's physical status, and his ability to be able the position, than there is anybody in football this year.
GREENE: Well, Joe, you suffered what some remember as one of the most horrific injuries they've ever seen when you broke your leg in a game in 1985. And it ended your career in your mid-30s. And Manning, you know, you talk about all these questions. I mean, what is he thinking? I mean is it really worth it?
THEISMANN: It is worth it. I probably would have been exactly like every other guy you've seen go too far or too long in this game. Bret Favre, one more year; Jerry Rice, one more year. I think that's what makes players great - they're love and passion and desire for the game. If you feel like you have just the slightest bit of ability, to be able to play better than that other person, you don't want to leave.
GREENE: Well, let's talk about players who are at the beginning of, you know, what they hope will be that path to greatness. I mean, we have a few teams this year who are pinning their hopes on rookie quarterbacks. And it begins with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin in Washington, your old team the Redskins. I mean, people are calling him RG3 which sounds like droid from "Star Wars."
GREENE: I mean he's making headlines in the nation's capital. Can a team win with a rookie.
THEISMANN: I think they can. I think so much about a football team is the people that surround the position. The quarterback position is the single-most dependent position on the field. If the offensive line doesn't block, if receivers don't catch the ball, you have problems.
I've been asked a question: What's the most important asset that a quarterback possess? I think its great defense. But if you think it's all about that one position, you're going to be misguided.
GREENE: All right, but all eyes will be on that one position as we begin this season.
GREENE: Joe Theismann, thanks so much for joining us and enjoy the NFL season. It begins tonight.
THEISMANN: I'm looking forward to it, David. Thank you.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Fun listening to him, we ought to bring him back. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.