The fighter: Former BYU, NFL quarterback Jim McMahon aims to win the toughest challenge of his life

Published: Saturday, Oct. 5 2013 5:35 p.m. MDT

"The guys that are in bad shape, from what I'm hearing, that's how it's gonna break down — the guys that are in the worst shape are going to get help first, the families of guys who have already died," McMahon said. "What amounts they'll get, I have no idea.

"I've already been documented, but all those 4,500 guys that jumped on the bandwagon, they're going to have to prove there's something wrong. They're going to have to go through testing, go through the MRIs and all the stuff that I've already done."

BYU, NFL superstar

McMahon, of course, was a multisport star at Roy High School in Northern Utah, where his family moved prior to his junior year. He not only helped lead the Royals' football team to a combined record of 18-3 in 1975-76, but he was also a superb performer in basketball and baseball before his graduation in 1977.

Then it was on to BYU, where he set an incredible 70 NCAA records as the triggerman of LaVell Edwards' high-powered offense. In all, he threw for 9,536 yards and 84 touchdowns in his collegiate career, leading the Cougars to bowl game victories in his junior and senior seasons, and was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

McMahon's most notable win at BYU came in the 1980 Holiday Bowl, when he rallied BYU from a 20-point deficit in the final four minutes. Trailing 45-25, the gritty McMahon refused to quit, at one point sending the punt team off the field on a fourth-down play, and engineered an amazing comeback. He connected on a 41-yard Hail Mary TD pass to Clay Brown as time expired to complete the Cougars' improbable and memorable 46-45 victory over SMU.

No wonder grateful BYU fans call it the "Miracle Bowl."

In 1982, he was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, where his spunk and rebellious nature got him crossways at times with the team's front office and head coach Mike Ditka, but where his talent, leadership and competitive spirit earned him the starting quarterback job and NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors in his first season.

By 1985, McMahon and the Bears were the best team in the NFL, piling up a near-perfect 15-1 record in the regular season and then steamrolling their way through the playoffs. They came up with their delightful "Super Bowl Shuffle" video, starring McMahon as the "punky QB," and capped that season with a 46-10 championship romp over the New England Patriots in a game that saw Jimmy Mac become the first quarterback in history to rush for two touchdowns in the Super Bowl.

McMahon was in full-on, bad-boy mode back then, clashing with then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle over the quarterback's wearing of a headband on the sidelines and mooning a media helicopter during practice after reports surfaced that he had suffered a serious injury to his buttocks during the NFC championship game.

That was the zenith of his NFL career although, during one stretch from 1984-87, he won what was then a record 22 consecutive regular-season starts. After feuding with Ditka and the front office, he was traded to the San Diego Chargers in 1989 and later spent time with the Philadelphia Eagles — winning the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award in 1991 — Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers. He retired following the 1996 season, when he got another Super Bowl championship ring as a backup QB with Green Bay.

When the damage was done

His concussion problems may have begun as far back as 1986, when he was dumped on his head on a vicious sack by the Packers' Charlie Martin, who body-slammed McMahon to the turf after the play was over and was subsequently ejected and suspended for two games.

That was also around the same time McMahon struggled with a sore throwing shoulder, which went misdiagnosed by team doctors for more than two months. He realized then that team doctors didn't always have the players' best interests at heart.

Still, for a guy who gave so much to the game, and received so much from it, he has few regrets.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere