Almost without question, there is a “character” on every team in the National Football League.
This character may be known for their wacky responses to questions from the media, odd behavior, free-wheeling play on the field, outlandish attire, or all of the above.
A little more rare is an NFL team with a multitude of characters.
Even rarer, a team filled with characters who are exceptional athletes and play at a championship level.
The last characterization could easily describe the 1985 Chicago Bears.
On a team filled with eccentric and zany players, the ultimate character was Jim McMahon.
McMahon was the punk quarterback who said his mind, changed plays without permission, wore banned clothing, and marched to the beat of his own drum.
The three Bears –
Jim McMahon, Dan Hampton, and Kevin Butler, pose alongside the Abbey Road sign in London.#ChicagoHistory #NFL #ChicagoBears #DaBears #SundayFunday #London #80s #ChicagoLand #Football #BearDown #Chicago #Illinois #BearsNation #Superfans #MonstersOfTheMidway pic.twitter.com/PRPrSyIM6j
— Chicago History ™️ (@Chicago_History) October 6, 2019
However, he was just what Chicago needed in their trek to a defining championship.
The rest of McMahon’s career could be described with amazing highs and train wreck lows.
Without a doubt, McMahon was the player that fans loved and loved to hate.
This is the story of Jim McMahon.
Early Life and High School Journey
James Robert McMahon Jr. was born on August 21, 1959 in Jersey City, New Jersey.
When he was three, the McMahon family moved to San Jose, California.
Young Jim Jr. was instilled with his competitive nature by his parents.
“We told him to believe he was the best,” his mother said. “If he didn’t, nobody else would.”
McMahon threw himself into sports as well as anything else activity-related.
In fact, his love of games led to one of his most signature looks.
While playing Cowboys and Indians with his brothers one day, McMahon tried to untie a knot in his gun holster with a fork.
The utensil slipped and jammed its prongs into McMahon’s eye.
Surprised by the amount of people who really know why I wear 😎 all time. Real story is this- I was playing Cowboys and Indians with my brothers as a kid. Tried to untie a knot in my gun holster with a fork and it slipped. Had 2 prongs go through my eye.
— Jim McMahon (@JimMcMahon) June 27, 2018
He had emergency surgery that saved the eye.
However, for the rest of his life, McMahon’s eyesight would be sensitive to light.
Hence, he has spent the majority of his days wearing sunglasses to help him see better and keep out excess glare.
McMahon would eventually take his love of sports into the high school arena at Andrew Hill High School in San Jose.
Before his junior year, the McMahons’ moved again to Roy, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City.
McMahon had few athletic peers in the state of Utah.
While at Roy High School, he lettered in three sports.
McMahon played quarterback and punter on the football team, and helped lead the Royals to a 20-0 record during his two years at the school.
This is the correct answer. Roy High School's Jim McMahon. Davey O'Brien Award winner.
Sammy Baugh Trophy winner.
Heisman runner up.
Super Bowl champion. https://t.co/qAcafeuemE
— The U Fan Cast (@TheUFanCast) November 8, 2019
As a quarterback, McMahon could throw the ball a country mile.
Just as stunning, his punts were epic.
McMahon’s leg boomed punts for a 45-yard average.
McMahon further set himself apart while racking up numerous accolades including team MVP.
He was named a high school All-American by numerous athletic publications and he was also voted All-Region, All-State, and All-Intermountain.
Wrapping up his senior year, McMahon desperately wanted to attend Notre Dame and star for the Irish.
The only problem was, Notre Dame wasn’t interested.
Even worse, not a lot of other big programs were interested in McMahon either.
“They (Notre Dame) didn’t give him a tumble at the time,” said Dave Schulthess, sports information director at BYU. “The University of Utah may have been interested,” Schulthess added.
BYU was interested and turned out to be the only college that recruited McMahon.
That left him with few options.
However, before matriculating to the school, McMahon was told in no uncertain terms about the expectations at the Mormon school.
“…his folks lived right up the road, he was a great passer and we were enlarging our stadium. Maybe it was a logical choice for him. And we told him there would be certain restrictions and standards he’d be expected to measure up to,” said Schultess.
Perhaps a little begrudgingly, McMahon headed an hour south to spend the next few years in Provo.
A Bit of a Rebel
From the program’s inception in 1922, the BYU Cougar football team had mostly been awful.
Winning seasons had been few and far between.
That all changed in 1972 when LaVell Edwards arrived.
For the next three decades, Edwards would helm the Cougars to numerous winning seasons.
He would also mentor a number of record-setting quarterbacks.
Marc Wilson arrived in 1976, and for the next four years, BYU only lost ten total games.
McMahon was part of the 1977 recruiting group, and because of Wilson, he did not play much his first few years.
As a freshman, he was used mainly as a punter.
During McMahon’s sophomore year, he saw time as a starter after Wilson was injured.
When Wilson returned the pair shared starting duties for the rest of the 1978 season.
McMahon’s limited appearances were good enough to earn All-WAC honors as well as an Honorable Mention All-America nomination from the Associated Press.
Toward the end of 1978, McMahon went down with an injury of his own.
The injury was serious enough that the coaching staff redshirted him for the 1979 season.
While McMahon was stuck holding a clipboard and watching Wilson succeed in ‘79, he was causing a ruckus away from the field.
The free-spirited quarterback had a difficult time adhering to BYU’s strict code of conduct.
— Out of Bounds 🏴☠️ (@bobounds) December 28, 2014
The highly religious school forbade alcohol and other forms of debauchery.
However, those seemed to be exactly what McMahon favored.
It was very clear to the administration and coaching staff that McMahon was anything but religious, especially not Mormon.
He was a fan of four letter words, a healthy amount of alcohol, and chewing tobacco.
“That’s kind of a minor source of embarrassment for conduct,” Schulthess said. “I think Jim resisted. He also strained a little bit of the rules, the standards.”
“Jim was sort of a maverick,” Schulthess continued. “I don’t believe he enjoyed the full experience that was available to him.”
It’s not like McMahon had many options.
Brigham Young was the only school to recruit him, so there really wasn’t any place else to go.
Plus, McMahon was no dummy.
He knew the opportunity he had with the football team, especially with a quarterback teacher like Edwards.
“It was a perfect place for Jim McMahon to develop his skills for a pro career,” said Gifford Nielsen, a former NFL quarterback who played with McMahon for two years.
“But in any business you’re going to have people who will not live straight down the line. Everybody has messed up. I do think LaVell wondered on occasion (about McMahon),” Nielsen said. “Jim was different from the ordinary BYU student.”
“Different” may have been an understatement.
Even the straight-laced Edwards recognized that McMahon was a little different than the typical BYU student.
On occasion Edwards became exasperated at his star in the making.
For example, there was the time that the coach grabbed McMahon by the face mask and brought him to his knees, the easier to scold McMahon for his ever present swear words.
Edwards never did experience the wild haircuts and sunglasses McMahon displayed as a pro.
However, McMahon’s behavior in the NFL did not surprise Edwards.
“He never did do those things when I was around him,” Edwards said in 1986. “I hate to see it, but no, it doesn’t surprise me. He’s his own man. It’s the same basic person, but he’s doing some outlandish things.”
Record Setting Cougar
With Wilson graduated and on to the NFL McMahon finally had the quarterback position all to himself.
Emboldened with the flair fitting his personality and his position, McMahon led the Cougars to a record setting 1980 season.
BYU lost the first game of the season then reeled off 11 straight wins and claimed the WAC championship.
Along the way, McMahon set 32 NCAA records, including single-season records for yards of total offense (4,627), passing yards (4,571), touchdown passes (47), and passing efficiency (176.9).
With McMahon leading the charge, the Cougars led the nation in passing offense, total offense, and scoring offense during the season.
He was named WAC Player of the Year, unanimous First-Team All-WAC, Utah Sportsman of the Year, and Deseret News Athlete of the Year.
McMahon would also finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
In the 1980 Holiday Bowl McMahon and the Cougars would play a game for the ages.
Trailing the high powered rushing attack of SMU and its “Pony Express” stars Craig James and Eric Dickerson 45-25 with only four minutes remaining, the BYU faithful were heading for the exit.
McMahon saw the mass exodus and screamed to the fans that the game was not over yet.
As if proving his point, McMahon engineered three scoring drives that ended in touchdowns.
— New York Post Sports (@nypostsports) December 19, 2016
The last score was a Hail Mary completion to Clay Brown that won the game as the clock hit zeros.
The contest is widely regarded as one of the best bowl games in college football history.
In 1981, the Cougars finished 11-2 and won the Holiday Bowl again in thrilling fashion.
A huge 24-7 lead over Washington State at halftime was erased and the teams battled to the finish line.
Eventually, McMahon and BYU won the contest 38-36.
One of the all-time great games in BYU history was the 1981 Holiday Bowl between #14 BYU and #20 Washington State.
BYU held on for a 38-36 win after Wazzu mounted a 2nd half comeback. Jim McMahon threw for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns and Todd Shell added a pick-six. pic.twitter.com/qQFzMnPjRD
— Benjamin Criddle (@CriddleBenjamin) October 19, 2021
During the season, McMahon passed for 3,555 yards and 30 touchdowns.
He was named WAC Player of the Year, unanimous First-Team All-WAC, First-Team All-American, and finished third in the Heisman voting.
McMahon was also the recipient of the Sammy Baugh Award and Davey O’Brien Trophy.
As he left Provo, McMahon took with him 70 NCAA records and a tie for another record.
His collegiate career totals were 9,536 passing yards and 84 touchdown passes (not counting bowl games).
In 2014, McMahon was inducted into the BYU Athletics Hall of Fame and he had his number 9 jersey retired by the school the same year.
McMahon is a Bear
McMahon’s record setting career in Provo was all the Chicago Bears needed to take him with the fifth overall selection of the 1982 NFL Draft.
His selection by the Bears was a bit of a shock as McMahon expected to be drafted by Baltimore.
“I was very surprised to be in Chicago to begin with,” McMahon said. “All indications were that I was going to the Baltimore Colts. They were drafting right before the Bears. I had done all the workouts and I had dinner with Johnny Unitas at his restaurant in Baltimore. At the time, my agent also had a running back from Baltimore, Curtis Dickey, and they were having trouble signing Curtis. So my agent told them don’t even bother drafting me because they’ll never sign me. On draft day, I was like wow, Baltimore passed. I didn’t even know who was picking next. It was Chicago and that’s how I ended up there.”
McMahon was so happy that he was no longer under the stifling conduct policy at BYU that he brought a beer with him to his first media event as a pro.
Needless to say, coach Mike Ditka was not impressed with his rookie.
Despite his poor initial impression with the coaching staff McMahon started right away as a rookie.
1982 – Rookie Quarterback Jim McMahon alone sign “Papa Bear” George Halas. #ChicagoHistory #Bears #BearDown #BearsFootball #NFL #80s #Chicago #Throwback #Flashback #SundayFunday #ChicagoBears #DaBears #PicOfTheDay #October #GoodOldDays #GloryDays #BearsNation pic.twitter.com/vRceBYWIPs
— Chicago History ™️ (@Chicago_History) October 13, 2018
He was also added to a steadily growing roster of talented players.
Along with McMahon in ‘82, Chicago had Walter Payton at running back and a number of solid athletes on defense.
Linebacker Mike Singletary was a newcomer the year before and Steve McMichael, Dan Hampton, and Doug Plank were becoming regulars.
The player’s strike shortened the 1982 season and McMahon played well despite the hiatus.
He was named to several All-Rookie teams after throwing for 1,501 yards, nine touchdowns and seven picks.
McMahon was also named the NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year.
In 1983, McMahon was a quick study in reading NFL defenses and switching plays at the line of scrimmage based on what he saw.
Of course, the audibles upset Ditka who thought the quarterback should simply follow through on the plays he called.
The Bears just missed the postseason that year with an 8-8 record.
McMahon finished the season with 2,184 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
By 1984, it was clear that Chicago was a team on the rise.
Each year the organization added pieces to the roster that would benefit both sides of the ball.
McMahon could hand the ball off to Payton or Matt Suhey and throw to receiver Willie Gault.
On defense, coordinator Buddy Ryan molded his unit of malcontents into a wrecking ball.
Along with Hampton, McMichael, Plank, and Singletary, the Bears had Richard Dent at defensive end and Wilber Marshall, Ron Rivera, and Otis Wilson at linebacker with Dave Duerson in the secondary.
Ryan called his defensive scheme the “46” after Plank, who wore the number.
the 46 defense man, Doug Plank pic.twitter.com/0k0GfMLOr3
— ᑭᖇO ᖴOOTᗷᗩᒪᒪ ᒍOᑌᖇᑎᗩᒪ 🏈 (@NFL_Journal) June 30, 2021
In ‘84, the Bears finished 10-6, defeated the Redskins in the Divisional round, and lost to San Francisco in the NFC Championship.
McMahon was having a good year until a home game against the Raiders.
During the contest he was hit hard enough to suffer bruised ribs and a lacerated kidney.
McMahon tried to play through the pain but was helped off the field by some of his linemen.
Perhaps unnecessarily, after the game, McMahon reported that his urine, “Looked like grape juice.”
Despite missing the remainder of the season due to the injury, McMahon still passed for 1,146 yards, eight touchdowns, and two picks.
The Mighty 1985 Bears
The Bears were clicking on all cylinders in 1985.
The final piece of their devastating roster arrived when the franchise added William “The Refrigerator” Perry in the 1985 draft.
With otherworldly talent on both sides of the ball Chicago sprinted out of the starting gate, winning their first 12 games.
During the run, the team throttled opponents.
The closest final score any team came to the Bears was nine points.
As Chicago was crushing souls on the field, they were raising spirits off the field.
It was around this time that the team released their infamous “Super Bowl Shuffle” tune sung by various team members.
(McMahon’s line was, “I’m the punky QB known as McMahon.”)
— Old School 80s (@OldSchool80s) December 3, 2020
Fans of opposing teams thought the Bears song showed an overconfidence in their chances to make, and win, the Super Bowl.
Sure enough, that notion would soon be tested.
In Week 13 Chicago played the Dolphins in Miami.
The game was personal for the Fins as their 1972 squad was the only undefeated team in NFL history.
They wanted to do anything it took to prevent the Bears from joining them in the record book.
With McMahon only playing a few minutes to keep him healthy for a playoff push, Miami kept their claim to fame alive, winning 38-24.
Chicago went on to win the final three games of the season to post a 15-1 regular season record.
The playoffs should have slowed the Bears down some, but instead, the team only got better.
In the Divisional round game against the Giants and the NFC Championship game against the Rams, Chicago outscored both teams by a combined 45-0.
Then, it was onto Super Bowl XX where they would face the Patriots.
When the Super Bowl was more of an After-Party
When the team arrived in New Orleans for the biggest game of their lives, Ditka tried to instill some discipline in his team.
He wanted them to act like professionals, but with a team filled with misfits and goof-offs, that was a tall order.
After all, they were in the Big Easy. Why would they not have a little fun?
Immediately after departing the team plane in New Orleans, McMahon was in his element.
He spent the next few days bad mouthing Chicago management for not bringing an acupuncturist on the plane to treat players on the flight.
He also hung out with actor/comedian Bob Hope, posed for pictures with members of the Miss Hawaiian Tropic Oklahoma pageant, and drank like a fish.
McMahon was still angry over the fine the NFL gave him for wearing an ADIDAS headband during the season and told the media about his displeasure.
After being fined $5,000 for wearing an adidas headband by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Bears QB Jim McMahon, on this day in 1985, wears a “ROZELLE” headband to the NFC title game shutout against the Rams. pic.twitter.com/2apLsOpEro
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) January 12, 2018
He was also perturbed for the league’s reaction to his headband emblazoned with ROZELLE on the front (in “homage” to then NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle).
Then, during a mid-week practice, a helicopter flew overhead to film the Bears’ walkthrough.
McMahon promptly dropped his pants and showed the camera crew his sore buttock from the NFC Championship game.
Jim McMahon moons a news helicopter as it hovered over the Bears’ practice field prior to Super Bowl XX: pic.twitter.com/ufraGC4C4l
— SI Vault (@si_vault) September 19, 2014
Not long after, McMahon was spotted throwing fruit at party goers.
He then exclaimed, “Got to have violence. Life is not complete without violence.”
The following morning McMahon awoke from a drunken stupor to several hate-filled messages.
His phone rang and McMahon picked up the receiver, only to hear a female voice berate him.
“You rotten son of a bitch.”
After hanging up the phone it rang again. This time another female caller hurled some choice insults at him.
Bewildered, McMahon asked some of teammates what had happened. They reported that he had gone on a Chicago radio show and called all the women of greater New Orleans “sluts” and the men “idiots.” The only problem was, the story was made up. A local television reporter had gone on the air to deliver McMahon’s message to the people. The reporter had failed to follow up and check if the story was accurate.
“It was f—— hell.” McMahon said years later.
“I’ve seen Black Sunday and all those movies. If somebody wants to kill your ass, they’re going to get a gun and do it.”
Almost as an afterthought the entire Bears team actually made it to Super Bowl Sunday.
And just as they had done in the first two rounds of the postseason, Chicago steamrolled New England.
Along the way, Perry lined up in the backfield and scored a rushing touchdown.
McMahon passed for 256 yards and ran for two scores, Gault caught four passes for 129 yards, and Payton rushed for 61.
Jim McMahon and the Chicago Bears pounded the Patriots in Super Bowl XX, 46-10. McMahon completed 12 out of 20 passes for 256 yards and became the first quarterback to rush for two touchdowns in a Super Bowl. pic.twitter.com/zfR3jykDyG
— Sports Plus (@PrepSportsPlus) February 10, 2019
About the only controversy during the game was Ditka forgetting to have Payton score his own touchdown.
The final score was 46-10 and Chicago had its first NFL championship since 1963.
1986-1988 and Trade to San Diego
In 1986, the Bears were cruising toward a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Along the way, McMahon was severely injured on a late hit by Green Bay nose tackle Charles Martin.
The play resulted in the loss of McMahon for the rest of the season.
His absence was felt in the playoffs.
After a 14-2 regular season, the Bears were bounced from the postseason by Washington in the Divisional round.
1987 was a near repeat of ‘86.
McMahon returned from his injury to play well and help lead Chicago to an 11-5 record.
Just like the previous year though, the Redskins ended the Bears season in the Divisional round.
Before the 1988 season, Payton retired, leaving McMahon to carry the load.
He took the role of leader seriously and vowed that the team would return to the postseason.
The Bears had a good year without their leading rusher, finishing 12-4.
Unfortunately, after a victory over Philadelphia in the Divisional round, Chicago lost to the 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
Then, during the offseason, McMahon and Bears president Michael McCaskey had frequent disagreements that soured the organization on their quarterback.
To make matters worse Ditka had his fill of McMahon as well.
Not seeing any reasonable compromise, the franchise decided they were going to look for a new signal-caller.
Jim McMahon with the Chargers pic.twitter.com/g43sbMdPfQ
— ⚡️ShaneBTB73⚡️ (@BackTheBlueChap) July 31, 2019
After seven seasons and a championship McMahon was traded to San Diego.
Brief Stop as a Charger and on to Philly
McMahon arrived in sunny San Diego and started 11 games for the Chargers.
However, as he had done in the Windy City, McMahon wore out his welcome.
After passing for over 2,100 yards he was released.
In 1990, the Eagles signed McMahon to back up Randall Cunningham.
The signing reunited McMahon with Buddy Ryan, who was the head coach in Philly.
I mean unless he rocks a Jim McMahon jersey….I still won't be a fan pic.twitter.com/5CGQUCoTOZ
— Bocephus Jenkins III, lover of Mud-flap rock🚛🇺🇲 (@Thebohindel) October 12, 2021
Cunningham tore his ACL in Week 1 of 1991 and McMahon stepped in with aplomb.
He guided the Eagles to a 10-6 record and received the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award after the season.
Cunningham returned in ‘92 placing McMahon squarely on the bench for the year.
After the season, he was released.
Football Nomad and Second Super Bowl Appearance
McMahon was next signed by Minnesota in 1993 and led the Vikings to eight wins in 12 games.
The team made it to the playoffs but lost to the Giants.
After the season, McMahon was released and signed by his old pal, Ryan, who was now the head coach for the Cardinals.
He made one start for the Cards and was out the door again once the season concluded.
McMahon was briefly signed by Cleveland in the ‘95 offseason, released, and then signed by Green Bay.
In two seasons as the back-up to Brett Favre, McMahon rarely saw the field, passing for a total of 45 yards.
In his final season as a pro, McMahon was fortunate to experience the Super Bowl for a second time.
The 1996 Packers were a very good football team, finishing the year 13-3.
They dispatched San Francisco and Carolina in the first two rounds of the playoffs and advanced to Super Bowl XXXI.
It was almost too good to be true.
McMahon was returning to the Super Bowl in New Orleans and playing against the Patriots.
Unlike a decade earlier, this time McMahon wasn’t such a free spirit.
He also saw no playing time in the big game.
However, after the Packers 31-24 victory, McMahon did have a second Super Bowl ring.
Had no idea Jim McMahon was Favre's backup on the Packers Super Bowl 31 team. He also won Super Bowl 20 in the Superdome with the Bears. pic.twitter.com/97TEkE3kYC
— Steph Florival (@StephenFlorival) April 26, 2020
Once the season concluded, the punky quarterback decided to call it a career.
In 15 seasons, McMahon passed for 18,148 total yards, 100 touchdowns, and 90 interceptions.
He had one Pro Bowl appearance (1985) and two Super Bowl championships.
Since retiring, McMahon has been in and out of the public eye.
He has been a restaurant owner, a motivational speaker, and targeted by the FDIC for bad loans as a member of the board at Broadway Bank.
In 2012, it was announced that McMahon was diagnosed with early stage dementia, a result of his football career.
“There are a lot of times when I walk into a room and forget why I walked in there,” McMahon said at the time.
An interview McMahon gave in 2014 detailed how bad his diagnosis had affected his perception of life.
“I am glad I don’t have any weapons in my house or else I am pretty sure I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “It got to be that bad.”
McMahon has since stated that he has tamed the disease through medicine and treatment.
His primary treatment has been the use of medical cannabis which he has called a “godsend” in staving off the negative effects of his career.
In 2020, McMahon explained in an interview that he could pinpoint the exact moment in his career when he began to have cognitive problems.
— Matt Ramage (@mattramage) March 24, 2018
According to McMahon, his concussive symptoms began with the Martin hit in Green Bay in 1986.
“That was the start of all the problems with my head,” McMahon said. “When he slammed me, the first thing that hit the ground was the top of my head. It compressed my C1 and C2 (vertebrae). It actually twisted them and got them in opposite directions. I was having trouble with my spinal fluid flowing properly.”
After over two decades away from the game McMahon wouldn’t be himself if he wasn’t stirring up trouble.
Earlier this year, he upset Bears fans with his assessment of the best team he played for during his career.
Shockingly, McMahon stated that the Packers were the best team he suited up for.
“It was the best team, or the best organization, that I’ve played for of the seven teams I’ve played for,” he said in April of 2021. “By far. From top to bottom it was great people.”
He further angered the denizens of Chicago with his take on the current Bears organization.
“I think it’s where quarterbacks go to die,” he said.
McMahon currently lives in Arizona and has four children from his first marriage.