Vai's View: Time is right for BYU to honor Jim McMahon

Published: Friday, Sept. 7 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

Sports Illustrated cover featuring Jim McMahon

Jim McMahon is on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week for the seventh time in his life. That's the exact same number as Steve Young, making them the most-featured SI cover boys in BYU's history. This cover is different than the previous six Jim has graced because it's about how his live-in girlfriend, Laurie Navon, who shares the cover, is dealing with Jim's early onset of dementia. According to the article, Jim is a part of a lawsuit against the NFL alleging the league "concealed information about the dangers of repeated blows to the head," that will be heard in U.S. District Court here in Philadelphia.

The NFL hasn't had great luck in Philadelphia courts, losing previous judgments on broadening its antitrust protection in 2010, and arbitration cases against Terrell Owens in '06 and, more recently, Drew Brees. Jimmy Mac is beloved in Philly for his years as an Eagle, and if that means anything, it may not bode well for the NFL in a Philadelphia court.

Eagles Nation loved Jimmy Mac for the take-no-prisoners style with which he played the game, which, sadly, probably contributed to his current condition. I've known Mac since I was 17 years old and saw him play that way at BYU.

Given Jimmy Mac's circumstances, I am calling on BYU to reconsider the policy of not allowing non-graduates into the school's hall of fame and induct Mac immediately as well as retire his No. 9 jersey. The school should do it this year. Do it while his faculties are still somewhat intact. Do it while he can appreciate the applause and the adoration of the people who watched him play and cheered for him in LaVell Edwards Stadium.

He returned last fall with the other BYU quarterbacks at the urging of his close friend and former teammate Tom Holmoe, now the athletic director, and also LaVell, and no one received a bigger ovation.

I think over time, even those who despised Jim for his antics, his lifestyle and his profanity have softened. So has he. A little. Enough that they got him to return to BYU's campus last year, something he once told me he'd never do.

Look, I understand how important a college degree is, especially when you're on a full athletic scholarship and someone else is paying the freight. Of course, I understand and appreciate it much more after I left BYU, like Mac and a host of others from our era. Some of us were knuckleheads. We weren't all like Steve Young and Devin Durrant. I didn't graduate on time, but returned years later to pick up my diploma. I also understand why the university sets the bar so high. I get it.

But I also believe that not everything in life is so cut and dry, so black and white. I think Mac's situation should be considered as a case-by-case basis.

The truth is, Jim doesn't really care that much about it, nor does he spend his days worrying about it. Obviously, right now, he has other things to worry about. But I believe BYU would show tremendous grace and class by making an exception. If ever anyone in BYU sports history deserved it, Jim McMahon does.

"I really don't care about it," Jim told me on the phone Friday. "It's never mattered to me."

It is worth noting, however, that Jim was only 10 credit hours shy of earning his diploma and there was a time when he registered to complete those hours of course work through BYU's independent study program — not so he could check that requirement off his hall-of-fame-requirements to-do list, but rather to finish what he started. Jim, you see, is as concerned about self-improvement as the rest of us. He just goes about it in his own unique way.

Unfortunately, the year passed before Jim completed the course requirements and now, considering his declining health, it isn't the same priority. Given his situation, wouldn't it be a tremendous gesture on the part of BYU to help facilitate Jim earning his final credit hours?

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