Doug Robinson: BYU football: A father's dream

Unfinished business: McMahon Sr. pushing for son's induction into BYU Hall of Fame

Published: Sunday, Oct. 5 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

Jim McMahon sits on his helmet and takes a breather during practice.

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Jim McMahon Sr. is 72 years old. His health is good, but after suffering a heart attack a few years ago, he doesn't take anything for granted.

"You never know how long you have," he says.

That's why he has decided to finish anything he considers to be unfinished business, and right at the top of the list is this little item: Get his son — record-setting quarterback Jim McMahon Jr. — inducted into the BYU Athletic Hall of Fame.

McMahon Sr. recently sent a letter to BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe, copied to former BYU coach LaVell Edwards, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Deseret News.

"I am writing this letter because it has been bugging me for over 25 years that my son Jim is not in the BYU Hall of Fame and that his jersey has not been retired," he wrote. "I am now 72 years old, and I do not have much time left, so I am putting in writing what has been in my heart the last 27 years."

His son tells him to forget about it. "Dad," he says, "Don't do this. They're not going to do anything about it." But his father persists.

"It ain't right what they're doing," says the elder McMahon when contacted at his home in Mesquite, Nev. "That's why I'm doing it. I've kept it to myself, but I finally said enough's enough. I want to see him honored the way he should be."

Then McMahon begins to recite a litany of his son's qualifications for the hall of fame, which is completely unnecessary. No one could ever question that McMahon's performance on the football field makes him a lock for the school's hall of fame.

Jim McMahon was the best quarterback ever to play at BYU, period. Better than Steve Young. Better than Ty Detmer. Better than any of them.

He was so good that an opposing defense once gave him a standing ovation after the game as he left the field. And that was after a rare loss. He was so good that Holmoe lays aside his normal A.D.'s diplomacy to say this: "He might be the best player who ever played at BYU, and in my position. I don't usually say things like that."

NCAA statisticians called McMahon the Babe Ruth of college football. He set 70 NCAA records, which is a record for records. He set records for passing efficiency, yardage, total offense, touchdowns. He did it despite sharing the quarterback job with Marc Wilson during his sophomore year. He did it despite repeatedly injuring his throwing shoulder and finally his knee in his senior year, which forced him to miss games and wear a 30-pound brace.

Detmer, who surpassed McMahon's career records, played in 10 more games than McMahon and threw nearly 500 more passes.

McMahon, at 6-foot-0, 185 pounds, lost only two starts in two years — one in a Wyoming blizzard, the other a four-point decision at New Mexico. He quarterbacked BYU to its first two bowl victories ever, in 1980 and 1981. He threw for 4,571 yards and 47 touchdown passes in one season alone.

But it was more than numbers. He had uncanny vision and a computer-like mind for recognizing defenses and their weaknesses instantly, and he picked them apart with ridiculous ease. He found second, third and fourth receivers. He audibled routinely. It all came easily to him. He didn't need film sessions, which he loathed.

"He'd come into the (film) room, and in five minutes he'd tell you what was going on," former quarterback coach Norm Chow once said. "He knew it before the coaches did."

McMahon was a consensus All-American for two years, the MVP of the Western Athletic Conference for three years, and he was named the starting quarterback for the WAC's 25th anniversary team.

It isn't much exaggeration when McMahon Sr. says, "He put BYU on the map." Holmoe agrees: "He played a big part in what BYU is doing today."

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