Jim McMahon speaks at St. Francis Brown & Gold banquet
By Dick Goss firstname.lastname@example.org October 18, 2012 8:18PM
Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon looks at a large bear after a press conference at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, IL on Thursday, October 18, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 20, 2012 10:55AM
Jim McMahon was smiling as he discussed his visit to New York last week.
That hasn’t always been his expression since he retired from football and began feeling the effects of early onset dementia brought on by at least four concussions and hundreds of vicious hits as an NFL quarterback.
McMahon, the “Punky QB” of the Super Bowl XX champion Bears, went to New York to see Dr. Raymond Damadian, whose work in magnetic resonance led to the invention of the first MRI.
“He has a new MRI machine, the standup,” McMahon said Thursday evening at the University of St. Francis Recreation Center, where he served as the guest speaker for the 35th annual Brown & Gold banquet. “You stand up rather than lying down or sitting.”
McMahon said he has “some type of blockage in the neck area, where the cerebral fluid is blocked and is backing up into the brain.
“Just diagnosing that, once this is resolved, that should take care of a lot of my problems,” he said.
McMahon will return to New York on Nov. 11 to begin treatment. If all goes as hoped, “my memory should come back,” he said. “I am very excited.”
McMahon’s issues with short-term memory loss were documented in a recent Sports Illustrated article. About a year ago, he joined the lawsuit of retired NFL players against the league for concussion-related dementia and brain trauma.
“The lawsuit is still a big concern,” he said.
Rules have changed in the NFL since the often-injured McMahon played from 1982 to ’96. The league has increased efforts to protect quarterbacks, but McMahon does not agree with the changes.
“You can’t even get near quarterbacks anymore,” he said. “Once they figure out the brain issues, well, it could be a neck like me. What they’re going to do on me is non-evasive, just have to shift the vertebrae. And when people get brain injuries or trauma, you have to look at the whole spine, not just the brain.”
The effect of the hands-off approach to protect quarterbacks?
“I’ll say this, I feel bad for the defensive guys,” McMahon said. “They’re getting fined for legal hits. I’m glad I don’t have to deal with it anymore.
“Heck, I might even have lasted a whole season if I never got hit.”
When McMahon came to the Bears out of Brigham Young as the fifth overall pick in the 1982 draft, he had to deal with George Halas, who they used to say threw nickels around like they were manhole covers.
“My agent had 10 or 12 guys taken in the first two rounds that year,” McMahon said. “I was the highest pick and made the least amount of money.
“I renegotiated my contract toward the end of the ’83 season, but that did not kick in until ’85. I didn’t make a million dollars except for one year, the 12th year I played.”
For that, he has a Super Bowl ring and plenty of fond memories but is dealing with early onset dementia.
“The good thing is I made a lot of money off the field,” McMahon said. “That’s been carrying me since I retired, too.
“Otherwise I do a lot of work with wounded veterans, a lot of charity work, speak at things like this (banquet), golf when I travel and lie around and watch TV.”
Imagine how much better his life will be if Dr. Damadian is able to deliver as McMahon is confident he can.