The idea is so simple that it’s amazing how cocky it is, especially when others have skyscraper billboards or movie packages. Shortly after the QB arrived in South Bend in 1967, Notre Dame SID Roger Valdiserri came up with the simple idea to change the pronunciation of Theismann’s last name from “Thees-man” to “Thighs-man” just to rhyme it with Heisman. Talk about forward thinking. It turned out to be pure marketing gold, more for Theismann’s career after college football than for actually winning the Heisman.
In fact, Theismann believes it cost him: “In hindsight, it probably hurt me more than it helped me. I think that the voters looked at it and said, ‘If he wins, that means public relations plays a bigger part than performance.” Theismann finished second in the 1970 Heisman voting to Jim Plunkett.
But before any of us get on his case for keeping the pronunciation change long after his college career, let him tell the interesting story of how he sought permission from his grandma to change his name.
“Our last name was pronounced TICE-man because it is German by its heritage. So I went to my grandmother and I said, ‘Granny, look, I’m thinking about changing my name from THEEZE-man to THIZE-man,’ and she said, ‘THIZE-man is closer to TICE-man than what we have had, so it is fine with me.’ So I got my grandmother’s blessing.” And if grandma Theismann says it’s OK, who else can complain?