In the National Football League (NFL) annals, there are records that players strive to break and others they hope to avoid. One such dubious distinction belongs to former Washington Football Team quarterback Joe Theismann, who holds the record for the shortest punt in NFL history. This surprising statistic might leave many NFL fans scratching their heads, considering Theismann's illustrious career as one of the best quarterbacks of his generation, including an NFL MVP Award in 1983 and a Super Bowl victory.
The infamous punt occurred during a game against the Chicago Bears in 1985. The team's starting punter, Jeff Hayes, had injured his thigh on a kickoff that was returned for a 99-yard touchdown by Chicago's Willie Gault. With Hayes sidelined, the responsibility of punting fell unexpectedly on Theismann. Despite being a seasoned quarterback, Theismann was not accustomed to punting footballs, which became painfully evident when he took the snap.
According to Ed Sherman of the Chicago Tribune, head coach Joe Gibbs approached Theismann and backup quarterback Jay Schroeder, asking if either could kick. Both quarterbacks affirmed they could; thus, Theismann was chosen to punt. Unfortunately, the star quarterback's attempt resulted in a punt that traveled a mere one yard over the line of scrimmage. This punt, often called the "Theismann 1-Yard Punt Game," is considered the shortest in NFL history.
The impact of this punt was felt beyond its lack of distance. The game's momentum shifted dramatically after the failed punt, with the Chicago Bears scoring 45 unanswered points against Washington. The Bears ultimately triumphed with a score of 45-10, a defeat that still resonates in the memories of Washington fans. The game remains infamous not only for the crushing loss but also for Theismann's record-setting short punt.
Interestingly, the shortest punt ever recorded was negative-7 yards by Sean Landeta of the New York Giants in the 1985 playoffs. However, this punt was returned five yards for a touchdown, making it a negative net yardage. There have also been at least two 1-yard punts in NFL history. But none of these instances have garnered as much attention or infamy as Theismann's one-yard punt.
In retrospect, the 1985 game against the Bears demonstrated the importance of the punter position in an NFL team. The injury to Jeff Hayes drastically impacted the game's outcome, proving that every player, regardless of their role, contributes significantly to the team's performance.