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From big time to big house

Monday, June 21, 2004
Rebel Yell
By Bob Carter
Special to

Signature Game
Dec. 19, 1980 --Running backs Craig James and Eric Dickerson helped Southern Methodist build a 45-25 lead over BYU with 4:07 left in the Holiday Bowl at San Diego. Jim McMahon, though, had a finishing kick left.

First, the junior quarterback threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Matt Braga with 2 minutes to go. Then after the Cougars recovered an onside kick at midfield, a 40-yard McMahon pass to Bill Davis set up BYU at the one, from where tailback Scott Phillips ran for a touchdown with two minutes left.

McMahon's two-point conversion pass to Phillips cut SMU's lead to 45-39. BYU held SMU to six yards on three runs and blocked a punt, taking possession at the SMU 41 with 18 seconds remaining. McMahon threw two incompletions, leaving three seconds on the clock, time for one play.

McMahon described the play: "Basically, it was everybody go deep, and if you get close to the ball, catch it."

He threw the ball as high and as far as he could, and 6-foot-3 tight end Clay Brown outleaped SMU defenders to catch it in the end zone. Curt Gunther 's extra point gave BYU a 46-45 victory, the school's first bowl win.

"It was a Hail Mary pass," said McMahon, who threw for 446 yards and four TDs. "That's all right. Clay and I are both Catholics. All we could hope for was a miracle or an interference call." They got their miracle.

Odds 'n' Ends

  • McMahon's bad behavior made life difficult for his parents, teachers and coaches. "I was born to be a hellion," he said. "I was tough on other children, tough on my parents and fairly tough on myself." *At 12, he was kicked off a baseball team for smoking.

    McMahon led his Roy (Utah) High School team to the state semifinals his junior year and the state quarterfinals as a senior. The team averaged 33 points over those two seasons.

    At BYU, his first pass came in the fourth game of the 1977 season after starter Gifford Nielson was injured. It was intercepted.

    During his four seasons at BYU, the Cougars went 39-8. In his junior season of 1980, they scored 50 or more points five times, including an 83-7 rout of Texas-El Paso.

    In his final regular-season college game, a 56-28 victory over Utah, McMahon passed for 565 yards before coach LaVell Edwards sent in a substitute with four minutes left. He was six yards short of Marc Wilson's single-game school record. "Wilson, after all, was a Mormon," McMahon said. "Couldn't let a cocky Catholic kid break his record."

    McMahon was a consensus All-American in 1981 after making some All-American teams the previous year. In 1981, he won the first Davey O'Brien Award, given to the nation's top quarterback.

    After being drafted in 1982, McMahon flew to Chicago to meet coach Mike Ditka, arriving at Bears' headquarters with a beer in his hand. "I thought he was thirsty," Ditka said. "I knew he wasn't out to impress anybody with good manners and good behavior." Said McMahon: "I was thirsty."

    His first NFL game was against New Orleans, a 10-0 loss. He was 12-for-22 passing for 131 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

    McMahon had a long history of injury problems. They included his knee, ankle, shoulder, back, neck, hamstring, hand and kidney.

    After NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle fined him $5,000 for wearing a headband with "adidas" lettered on it in January 1986, McMahon said, "They're taking all the fun out of the game. Well, that's football. I mean, politics."

    He considers the 1985 Bears the best team in history and running back Walter Payton the greatest player he ever saw.

    McMahon said he made close to a million dollars for doing commercials and making appearances in the first couple of months after the Super Bowl victory. But he said he could have earned a lot more if he were that interested in money.

    In its Aug. 31, 1987 issue, BusinessWeek reported McMahon was making $3 million annually in endorsements.

    For his 15 NFL seasons, McMahon completed 58 percent of his passes (1,492-of-2,573) for 18,148 yards (7.1 per attempt) and 100 touchdowns. He threw 90 interceptions in his 119 games.

    When he retired in March 1997 at 37, McMahon said it was time for his family to stop following him around. "I'm ready to move on and do nothing except play golf and hang out with our four kids."

    A six-handicap golfer, McMahon played briefly on the Celebrity Players Tour.

    He has been involved with several charities, including the Think First Foundation, for which he has been national spokesman. Think First is a head and spine injury prevention program.

    McMahon's favorite movie? "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

    McMahon was a spokesman against drunk drivers in Illinois and his "Don't Be a Punk and Get Drunk" posters appeared in bars and restaurants. That ended in 2003 when he was arrested for drunken driving in Florida.

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