McMahon caught my attention while playing quarterback in college at Brigham Young. He was the exact opposite of the previous limp wristed panty waists who played the position at the school who came into the NFL highly touted and left with very little to call success.
The 1980 Holiday Bowl - Brigham Young vs SMU
A game came to be known as the “Miracle Bowl”. This was supposed to be the Pony Express (Eric Dickerson and James Craig) platform, and while BYU was a reasonably high scoring offense, it was said by many their defense would be no match for the SMU running game. And for a while, SMU certainly ruled. Trailing 45-25 with about 4 minutes left, McMahon refused to quit, seemingly willing his offense to score, and throwing the game winning Hail Mary touchdown with almost no time on the clock. That got my attention. And it also had the cynic in me thinking “that was cool … and he just disqualified himself from being considered by the Bears because he doesn’t suck”.
NFL Draft - 1982 - First Round : “and with the 5th selection in the draft, the Chicago Bears select, Jim McMahon, quarterback, BYU”
I was in the USAF stationed in Germany at the time, and was very surprised, and quite happy, that my beloved Bears may have found their way out of quarterback hell. And being overseas, I didn’t get to see all of the Bears games. But I saw enough of them to be encouraged that McMahon was the right choice.
But then I also saw the injury bug, which would eventually be his undoing as the Bears QB.
And on a Thursday night in the Minnesota roller-dome, I saw both.
McMahon was on the sidelines, and was not expected to play. He had been in the hospital just a couple of days before the game for back and chest issues. So Steve Fuller got the start. And the Bears looked like they all were on whatever medication McMahon may have had. Sluggish, slow, and getting beaten by what I felt was an inferior team.
I was watching the game at the NCO club, which always put on special football parties for the prime time national games, brought to us courtesy of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service. And my friends were ribbing me, in particular a Green Bay fan (who aside from being a Packer Backer was a relatively decent person normally). The Vikings had a small halftime lead, primarily because the Bears defense was beating them up. But it didn’t look like the Bears offense would find any sort of spark.
Until McMahon finally pestered Ditka into letting him play.
“He was driving me crazy; ‘Put me in, put me in,’” Ditka recalled. “I said, ‘You didn’t practice all week, you’re hurt, it’s a short week. I think we can win the game with the team we have out there.’ But after I found out we couldn’t, you can say what you want, but he made the plays and energized the football team.”
And play he did.
His first 2 passes resulted in 2 Bears touchdowns. A 70 yard play to Willie Gault. A 25 yard play to Dennis McKinnon (after the Bears defense had gotten a turnover). I went nuts. And when his next pass was an almost completion which would have made 3 TD’s in 3 passes, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. Instead, they had to actually complete a drive for that TD.
Bears 33 Vikings 24
Even the Goon Bay fan co-worker gave me a hug and bought me a beer. It was a sweet game and I’m pretty sure I was still drunk when I got to work that Friday. But I was wearing a grin you weren’t going to be able to erase.
The Legend Grows
McMahon never had the prettiest throws or the most impressive stats. What he did have was a knack for getting the offense to simply play better when he was taking the snaps. Unfortunately, he wasn’t always taking the snaps. He seemed to have a target on him for the injury bug. Maybe it was his lack of attention to physical fitness. Maybe it was his late nights on the town. Maybe it was just bad luck.
I am convinced that if McMahon had been playing, the Bears would have beaten the 49ers to go on to the Super Bowl in 1984. Instead, they were shutout in San Fran, and all I can remember is wondering if all McMahon would ever give us was a tease.
Ah, but then the magical season leading to the SuperBowl XX winning, Super Bowl Shuffling, ass kicking team of 1985.
The very first game I saw returning stateside was the Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys. A game I watched with my new co-workers at a different NCO club. Some of whom were Cowboys fans, and who told me not to worry, the ‘Boys wouldn’t hurt the teddy bears that much. But then the game started, and things would never be the same. Chicago 44 Dallas 0
I was in utter shock. These were MY Bears? And that feeling continued pretty much all season, a combination of shock and pleasure that disrupted the senses. And there was McMahon, front and center, leading the way. The Pied Piper of a collection of talented loons who seemed to cherish destroying their opponents.
McMahon played a key role throughout the playoffs and into the Super Bowl. Opponents were determined to stop Walter Payton, and the greatest running back ever selflessly played the decoy to let the rest of the offense rack up yards and points. And more important, wins.
Down, Out, then Gone
I had figured this Bears team would easily get to 2 more Super Bowls, and have a good chance at winning them. And maybe if McMahon was still leading them, that would have happened. But the injury bugaboo kept claiming him, and when he was on the sidelines, the Bears offense was out to lunch, because Walter couldn’t do everything. He needed that wild card taking the snaps to give him freer room to roam. But the wild card wasn’t there.
A few more injury plagued seasons led to a draft day trade with the San Diego Chargers, sending the Punky QB west. And though he had short flashes of success with the Chargers and later the Philadelphia Eagles, he couldn’t stay healthy for them long enough either to really make a difference.
The Bears meanwhile returned to quarterback hell, with an incompetent Mike Tomczak failing miserably after being given the reigns. Jim Harbaugh might have been the answer, but he couldn’t stop pissing off Ditka, so he was shown the door, which to me was an ego fueled mistake by Da Coach which led to his ultimate demise on the Chicago sidelines. And the clownshow retards the Bears managed to find and call quarterbacks since is a long list of failure that sickens me every time I see it. So I sure as hell am not going to post it, or even link to it, in an article I’m writing. Go find it yourself if you’re that much of a fucking masochist.
McMahon’s final days in the NFL were spent as a backup for the goddam Packers of all teams. Which got him his second ring. And he went to the White House in celebration wearing his Bears jersey.
Good bye and Thanks
McMahon doesn’t have Hall of Fame stats. He only won 1 ring as a Bear. He wasn’t the prettiest or the best of the NFL QB elite.
What he was, was hope. When you saw him take the field, no matter what the score or situation, you knew the team had a chance. And I for one will always be thankful for what he brought to the team, and to the city. And I wish him nothing but the best for the rest of his days on earth.
Date of birth: August 21, 1959
Place of birth: Jersey City, New Jersey
High School: Andrew Hill, Roy (Utah)
Height: 6 ft 1 in Weight: 195 lb
College: Brigham Young
NFL Draft: 1982 / Round: 1 / Pick: 5
Debuted in 1982 for the Chicago Bears
Last played in 1996 for the Green Bay Packers
Chicago Bears (1982-1988)
San Diego Chargers (1989)
Philadelphia Eagles (1990-1992)
Minnesota Vikings (1993
Arizona Cardinals (1994)
Cleveland Browns (1995) - practice squad *
Green Bay Packers (1995-1996)