Brad Rock: Put Mad Mac in the BYU Hall of Fame

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 22 2008 12:08 a.m. MDT

It happened 28 years ago, yet remains the most memorable moment in BYU football history. Jim McMahon dropped back, the game clock clicked to zero, and he let fly the pass.

Half a field away, peering through the mist, Clay Brown wrestled it in for the winning touchdown in Holiday Bowl III. BYU had overcome a 20-point deficit in the final four minutes to beat SMU.

But neither that moment, nor 70 NCAA offensive records, was enough to get McMahon into BYU's Athletic Hall of Fame.

Good thing there's that graduation requirement to keep out the rabble.

Much has been said of McMahon the past two weeks, with opinions on the subject published in both Salt Lake dailies. McMahon's father has gone public, pleading that his son be inducted.

In September, six more BYU figures were added to the school's athletic hall, but not McMahon. The explanation is that he didn't graduate, which is one of the criteria.

A cynic would say there are other reasons, too. McMahon was never a BYU-type guy. He liked playing for LaVell Edwards but disliked the school. He violated the honor code and was conveniently expelled after his eligibility ran out.

Former teammates swear by him, but for some administrators, he was a problem. He was cocky, independent, defiant and unapologetic — the very qualities that made him a superb quarterback.

Still, if McMahon isn't in the school's Hall of Fame, it's not a real Hall of Fame. Few, if any, athletes at BYU played better or did more for its national reputation than McMahon.

The tricky part about halls of fame is that not all have the same criteria. But it's hard to take any hall seriously if its best players are missing.

Baseball is the most conflicted sport. Included in its Hall of Fame are reputed incorrigibles like Ty Cobb, who has been accused of being a racist and a murderer (those claims have never been fully corroborated). Wade Boggs shamed the game with his excesses, such as an admitted sex addiction. He purportedly drank 64 beers on one plane flight. Yet he is in the baseball Hall of Fame while Pete Rose — who got more hits than any other player — is not. That's because Rose bet on games.

Now baseball faces its biggest dilemma: whether to include the game's greatest home-run hitter, Barry Bonds. He is widely believed to have used steroids to enhance his game.

Should O.J. Simpson remain in football's hall, despite having been found liable in civil court for the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend? He was recently convicted of robbery and kidnapping. Should Leon Spinks really be in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, but not convicted rapist Mike Tyson?

I don't know all the answers, but two things I'm sure on: Bonds doesn't belong in baseball's hall because he cheated to set his records, and McMahon belongs in BYU's because he didn't.

McMahon may have failed to graduate, but as far as I know he didn't commit any felonies and he wasn't juiced. In ensuing years, he was arrested on a DUI in Florida, mooned a news helicopter, blew his nose on a reporter and got named to coach in the Lingerie Bowl. Stories abound of McMahon's college exploits, from honor code violations to pilfering mini-bottles from airplane serving carts, to swinging from the balcony of a 26th floor hotel room.

Not exactly the image BYU is looking for, especially in an era when coach Bronco Mendenhall likens his team to Book of Mormon characters.

It's all beside the point.

He's in the College Football Hall of Fame but can't get into BYU's.

So change the criteria. It's not that hard.

Call it a Wall of Honor, or a Legacy Walk, but don't make it a Hall of Fame if there's no McMahon. Without McMahon, or fellow nongraduates Mo Elewonibi and Jason Buck, it's like a smile without the front teeth.

It's easy for some to draw the line and say graduation is mandatory. But for many who were there in San Diego in 1980, it's unthinkable for McMahon to be missing.

Laws are changed, neighborhood covenants updated, property boundaries realigned. Criteria for admission into the BYU Athletic Hall of Fame can be altered, too.

Otherwise, it's not about the best of the best. It's just a collection of very good players.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com

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