Desoto County Sports

Theismann receives AutoZone Liberty Bowl Distinguished Citizen Award

Photo: Joe Theismann answers questions during a media availability ahead of a dinner Sunday where he received the AutoZone Liberty Bowl Distinguished Citizen Award. (Bob Bakken/  

College Football Hall-of-Famer and Super Bowl champion Joe Theismann is in Memphis to receive the AutoZone Liberty Bowl’s most prestigious recognition, the Distinguished Citizen Award. 

Theismann, who played for Notre Dame and the NFL Washington franchise, then called the Redskins, received the award during a dinner at the Hilton Memphis Hotel Sunday evening. Theismann also is part of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl Golf Classic at TPC Southwind on Monday, June 3, playing in a group with University of Memphis basketball coach Penny Hardaway and football coach Ryan Silverfield.  

Joe Theismann (AutoZone Liberty Bowl photo)

Sunday’s dinner benefited St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

“Joe joins a decades-long list of renowned Americans who have distinguished themselves and reached the pinnacle of their chosen field,” said Steve Ehrhart, Executive Director of the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.  “We are proud to include Joe among the nationally-known luminaries who have been honored by the AutoZone Liberty Bowl over our 66-year history.”

Theismann was an All-American quarterback for Notre Dame and a Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1970. He was a Super Bowl champion and NFL Man of the Year in 1982, and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1983.  Theismann has been a commentator on broadcasts for ESPN, ABC, and the NFL Network.

In Memphis Sunday evening, Theismann recalled that the Liberty Bowl was one of his first games he worked as a broadcaster.  

“My first official broadcast was the 1981 Liberty Bowl between Ohio State and Navy,” Theismann said Sunday. “So many wonderful things are done by the Liberty Bowl and I’m honored to be a recipient of this Distinguished Citizen Award.”

He said receiving the award makes him feel like he is in “rarified air” because of the others who have been named, including a musical hero of his. 

“In 1977 Elvis Presley won this award and I’m thinking, ‘I’m on the same list as Elvis Presley,’” Theismann related. “Lou Holtz, Peyton Manning, last year Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler; you have people who have created situations or people who have been icons in an industry, and to be included in that company is very humbling.”  

When asked about the world of college football right now, Theismann said the game is in a very challenging area with Name, Image, and Likeness, or NIL, and the transfer portal.
“What scares me about the (transfer) portal is that it’s taking away that degree of competition that I think really builds young men and women for the rest of their life,” he reflected. “Now, it’s just easier to go someplace else because you think you’re good. But, maybe you’re not as good as you think you are.”  

He also said the idea of NIL absolutely should not enter high school sports, although it’s creeping into that area now, and spoke about his support for St. Jude.  

“My connection to St. Jude is very strong and I have a website,,” he said. “People send me memorabilia to sign and I will sign them, but I ask them to make a donation to St. Jude. I don’t take any money, I want St. Jude to get every penny.”