Goss: Jim McMahon calls the right signals at Brown & Gold
October 19, 2012 9:16PM
Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, right, signs autographs for Frank Castagnoli before a press conference at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, IL on Thursday, October 18, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 22, 2012 6:34AM
Because of his reputation, because of what we had read and heard about his post-concussion issues, many of us were expecting a 2 or 3 on a scale of 1 to 10.
We got a 10.
Former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon was that candid and entertaining as guest speaker at Thursday’s 36th annual University of St. Francis Brown & Gold banquet at the Patrick J. Sullivan Recreation Center.
Perhaps buoyed by the news New York doctor Raymond Damadian may have a remedy for McMahon’s head pain and what has been diagnosed as early onset dementia, McMahon captivated the crowd of 600 with tales of playing with the Bears, at BYU and more.
“I have Tourette’s, too,” he deadpanned. “So you may hear some things come out of me tonight.”
His popularity has not waned. McMahon signed hundreds of autographs, and the live auction for a round of golf with him at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove brought a cool $5,000 to the school’s athletic coffers.
Always the smart yet fearless quarterback, McMahon said he would have liked to have been a teammate of his Bears coach, Mike Ditka. However ...
“When I was with Chicago, Mike tried to be offensive coordinator, and he’s not that,” McMahon said. “When I’d change the play, he’d say, “What are you trying to do?’ I said, ‘I’m trying to win games. The stuff you are sending in is not going to win games.’ ”
During the 1985 championship season, the often-injured McMahon — “I had 18 surgeries when I played; I pretty much glow in the dark” — had missed a couple of days of practice before the infamous Thursday night game at Minnesota. Joe Namath, McMahon’s hero, was on the telecast. The two were chatting in the stands during practice, and Namath asked, “Shouldn’t you be down there?”
“Why? I’ve been here four years and nothing is going to change,” McMahon responded. “Besides, he (Ditka) told me I’m not going to play, I didn’t practice.
“But I felt good in pregame warmups, and the whole first half I’m in Ditka’s ear that I can go in. To this day, I’m convinced the only reason I got in was because I was in his ear constantly.”
The Vikings led 17-9 when McMahon entered midway through the third quarter. Ditka called a screen pass, which McMahon honored. But he saw a blitz coming, where a linebacker takes the back. So much for the screen.
“I stumbled taking the snap,” McMahon said. “When I regained my balance, I threw it to Willie Gault, who was 10 yards behind his man. Touchdown (70 yards). Mike wanted to know what I called. I told him a screen, but Willie was open so I threw it to him.”
McMahon’s next offensive play was a 25-yard TD pass to Dennis McKinnon. That wasn’t Ditka’s call, either, but McMahon said it was the right play if the Vikings’ free safety jumped the tight end, which he did. “Mike was upset again,” McMahon said.
Another memorable game from that season was the Monday night loss at Miami.
“I missed Wednesday practice and Mike said I couldn’t play,” McMahon said. “He said we’re not going to have another Minnesota game. I said, ‘Why? That turned out pretty good.’
“He finally puts me in with six minutes to go and we’re down 14. I knew Walter (Payton) had 70 or 75 yards. He was going for the record for 100-yard games. Ditka calls a pass. I told the guys in the huddle, ‘We’re going to get this man (Payton) his record.’ Everyone said let’s do it. I hand off to Walter and he gains 15 yards. Ditka burns his final timeout.
“He calls another pass, I give it to Walter again, he gets another 15 and the record. Then I said to the guys, ‘Now, let’s try to win this game.’ Of course, we didn’t. That was just their night.”
During the Super Bowl preparation, McMahon said, “I supposedly called all the New Orleans women ‘sluts’ on a 6 a.m. radio show. Even if I thought they were sluts, I wouldn’t say that on a radio interview.
“Ditka asked about it and said it supposedly was on a 6 a.m. show. I said, ‘Mike, you know me better than that. I wouldn’t do any radio interview, especially one at 6 a.m.’ ”
A Ditka gimmick was William Perry in the offensive backfield.
“He did that to get back at (San Francisco 49ers coach) Bill Walsh, who put Guy McIntyre back there the year before,” McMahon said. “It became a real circus. We even practiced a reverse for him, that’s how crazy it got.”
On his former Bears teammates: “I see them a lot. It was a special group of guys.”
On Chicago: “Chicago always treated me well. The fans understand sports. They could tell who is playing hard and who isn’t and they let you know it.
“Chicago’s a great town, I just couldn’t deal with the weather (he lives in Scottsdale, Ariz.).”
On Payton’s pranks: “Walter had those M-80s with the long fuses. He would light them in the corner by Halas Hall and then go out on the practice field. Ten minutes later one would blow up — boom! — and scare everybody. He’d be laughing his (posterior) off.”
On Charles Martin’s cheap shot, slamming down McMahon two seconds after he released a pass: “I was surprised he didn’t break my neck. Robert Brown, an old friend who was a defensive lineman on the Packers, told me the day before, ‘Our coach (Forrest Gregg) doesn’t like you very much so watch yourself.’ I figured I’d see the big hit coming, but he (Martin) got me from behind.”
On the Packers, his final team: “You may not want to hear it, but that is a first-class organization.”
On baseball and his recruiting: “All I ever wanted to do was play baseball. In high school I pitched, played shortstop and outfield. I played outfield one year at BYU. But I got a scholarship for football. I really wanted to go to Vegas. It was the funnest recruiting trip and I got offered a lot of stuff. But my parents got a chance to see me play if I stayed in Utah.”
On Utah: “Utah has great skiing. Otherwise, it was a little weird. I saw that show ‘Sister Wives’ firsthand.”