Dick Harmon: Former BYU QB Jim McMahon's brain in hands of inventor of the MRI

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 13 2012 6:00 a.m. MST

He told of his battles with Chicago head coach Mike Ditka, how he’d like to have had Ditka as a teammate. A defensive coach, Ditka tried to call plays for the offense, and McMahon had fun with how that simply failed and he’d have to switch plays.

Because of an injury, McMahon missed a few practices leading up to that famous game at Minnesota during Chicago’s 1985 championship season. Before that game, McMahon found his hero, Joe Namath, who was doing the broadcast sitting in the stands at a Bears practice. Namath asked why he wasn’t on the field, and McMahon told him, “Why? I’ve been here four years and nothing is going to change. Besides, he (Ditka) told me I’m not going to play, I didn’t practice.”

During games, McMahon was always in Ditka’s ears on the sidelines, asking him to put him in, and that night he felt good in warmups and started in with Ditka to play him.

Down 17-9 in the third quarter, Ditka finally put McMahon in the game, and the coach called a screen pass. McMahon tried to run the play but saw a blitz, and a linebacker picked up the targeted running back. McMahon explained that on that play he stumbled taking the snap. When he regained his balance, he threw the ball to Willie Gault, who was 10 yards behind his man and easily scored a 70-yard touchdown.

“Mike wanted to know what I called. I told him a screen, but Willie was open so I threw it to him,” said McMahon.

His next offensive play was a 25-yard touchdown to Dennis McKinnon, and it also wasn’t Ditka’s called play . But when the Viking free safety jumped to cover the Bears' tight end, it left McKinnon open, and McMahon quickly made the read and throw. “Mike was upset again.”

In a loss to Miami the next week, Ditka told McMahon he wasn’t going to play because he missed practice on Wednesday. “We aren’t going to have another Minnesota,” said Ditka. “Why not, that turned out pretty good,” McMahon told his boss.

As it turned out, McMahon did come in the game with the Bears trailing. On multiple occasions, he switched Ditka’s pass plays to runs for Walter Payton, who was going for a record for 100-yard games. Payton gained chunks of 10 and 15 yards and got the record. Chicago lost, Ditka was mad but the offensive players loved it. So did Payton.

That in a nutshell is Jim McMahon.

Who knows if he’ll heal from his head injuries and if this New York doctor can turn things around.

Who knows if BYU will ever get McMahon his degree so he can be in its Hall of Fame, or waive the requirement for the guy.

But I wish him the best and good luck.

Forever, there will be only one Jim McMahon.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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