PHOENIX, Ariz. – The pillar of most franchises is the quarterback, but there has never been one quite like Jim McMahon – cool, creative, and as tough as they come.
The Punky QB almost lost his foot to infection following bone spur surgery, but he gutted it out to keep playing the game he loves.
“I like playing in the middle of the day because there is nobody on the golf course. You get in your cart. You get a little hot breeze going. You’re alright. Cold beer? You’re fine.”
Barefoot, of course.
“Try it. Your balance will get better.”
McMahon was drafted fifth overall by the Bears out of BYU back in 1982, much to his surprise.
“I was just getting over the shock of being taken by the Baltimore Colts. That’s who was picking fourth that year. All indications were that’s where I was headed. I had been back to Baltimore a couple of times. I was having lunch and dinner with Johnny Unitas at his restaurant. He was telling me all about the city of Baltimore – this and that. I had forgotten I had told my agent I didn’t want to be in Baltimore.
“I had no idea who was even picking next. It happened to be Chicago. I got the call from them. Five hours later I’m in Chicago, getting out of the limo with a beer. They made a big stink about it. Then, I go sit there and wait for Halas for like an hour to talk to him. I just remember the first words out of George’s mouth were, ‘You’re too short. You got a bad eye, a suspect knee. Maybe you should go to Canada.’ First words out of his mouth. I said, ‘Why did you draft me old man? Who’s in your scouting department?’ He’d already had a contract for me. I just got drafted. I saw just one number and I’m like, ‘I’m not signing that.’ I rolled it up. I threw it at him. I walked out because I knew the USFL was coming in at the same time. I had a meeting with George Allen, who was coaching the Blitz. He offered me a great contract. I said, ‘George, you put this is writing, I will play for you. But, he never came back with a written deal. So, George unrolled that paper and I had to sign that damn contract.”
Four seasons later, McMahon helped lead the Bears to the Super Bowl with some of the biggest battles breaking out right on the practice field.
“Our practices were definitely heated. Everything was live. We didn’t have the buddy-buddy periods that a lot of teams do have, especially nowadays. There were always fights. Those three-hour practices turned into three and a half just because of the fights. Definitely good for our offensive line. They learned to be tough and they were tough. I think it was good for our defense as well because they were as good an offensive line as they were going to go up against all season long.
“It got brutal in there. I remember defensive guys would yell to Buddy [Ryan], ‘Hey, they’re cutting us.’ Buddy would say, ‘Well, do they cut you in the game? Yeah? Deal with it.’ That was the mentality.”
McMahon’s trip to the Big Easy for the Big Game was anything but.
“I get woke up on a Thursday morning by an irate fan. They’re cussing me out. I’m like, ‘What the hell?’ I hang it up. Kurt Becker’s my roommate. He goes, ‘What the hell was that?’ I go, ‘I don’t know. Somebody’s pissed off. Couple minutes later, same thing – different person cussing me out.
“I get up and go to breakfast. Then Ditka walked over. He goes, ‘Did you really say that?’ I said, ‘Mike, what the hell did I do? I’ve been woken up this morning by the fans. Jerry’s pissed. What did I do?'”
A local TV station reported that McMahon called the women of New Orleans ‘sluts’ and the people there ‘ignorant.’
“The rest of the week, women were picketing the hotel. I kept getting threats. Saturday morning, I remember walking back to the hotel. There was firemen, police everywhere. There hard been a bomb scare. I thought they blew up Beck, my roomie.”
Turns out, McMahon never said anything at all to that effect. The TV station made a retraction and an apology.
“It was freaky. I don’t remember much of the game because I wanted to get out of that game. I didn’t want to get shot. Glad the way things ended up.”
McMahon won another Super Bowl backing up Brett Favre. But, he wore his old Bears jersey for the Packers White House visit.
“The only coach that got really upset was Fritz Shurmur. He was our defensive coordinator. He was the same defensive coordinator that was with the Rams when we beat them to go to the Super Bowl in ’85. I think he still harbored some bad feelings.
“Bill Clinton was the president at the time. I walked up with that jersey. He’s like, ‘Why are you wearing that?’ I said, ‘Well, Bill we never got to go.’ He said, ‘Why not?’ I said, ‘The space shuttle blew up two or three days after we won.’ He was like, ‘Oh, yeah. I remember that. Then, we came out to do that team picture out there. I see Fritz Shurmur yelling out, ‘You son of a!’ ‘Sorry Fritz. I told ya.'”
No matter who he was dealing with or where he was, McMahon always spoke his mind.
“It’s not that I rebel against authority. I question it sometimes. ‘Why is that the only way to do things?’
“The headband thing. That really pissed me off because I’d been wearing that headband for a year or two and nobody said a word. When I got fined that first playoff game, I got ahold of the rule book. I’m looking through it. ‘They got no business fining me.’ That’s when I started messing with them the following week. Put [Pete Rozelle’s] name on there. I didn’t get a fine that week. I actually got a call from him thanking me for the free advertising. He told me I wasn’t allowed to wear my Adidas head band in the Super Bowl. I’m like, ‘Okay. We’re going to see what we can do about that.’ Because I’d been reading up on it. I said, ‘I’m going to mess with them now.
“I just remember the whole pregame warmup the head referee chasing me around the field because I had the Adidas headband on. He goes, ‘I can’t let you on the field with that.’ I go, ‘I know. I know.’ As soon as the anthem was over, I go to put my helmet on. He grabs me. ‘You can’t go on the field.’ I said, ‘I know, but you can’t do [expletive] about this.’ I pulled it down around my neck. Because Adidas was paying me a good chunk of change to wear it. I told them, ‘It might not be on my head, but you’re going to see it.’ So, every series I’d wear a new charity. I figured if they’re going to fine me for charities, they’re going to look like idiots. So, I didn’t get fined in the Super Bowl. I got my check from Adidas. And I got a hell of a lot of great publicity for the headbands I did wear. It all backfired on them. I said, ‘Yeah, see. You guys made a big stink about nothing and look what happened.’ I made a ton of money. You thought I was an idiot.”