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Jim McMahon grateful to receive a Royal honor

Published: Saturday, July 4 2015 2:08 a.m. MDT

Jim McMahon with his former coach Lavell Edwards as his number is retired during halftime at Roy High School in Roy on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Jim McMahon with his former coach Lavell Edwards as his number is retired during halftime at Roy High School in Roy on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

ROY — Headbands and sunglasses were in abundance Friday at Roy High School.

So was plenty of adoration and appreciation for a former Roy High athlete who went on to become a football superstar.

And after many years away from a place he once called "home," Jim McMahon — the charismatic man who made those headband and sunglasses accessories mighty popular — was glad to be back.

McMahon, a multi-sports star for the Royals back in 1975-77, returned to his alma mater this weekend to be enshrined into the Royal Athletic Hall of Honor. The school officially retired his No. 9 jersey during a halftime ceremony of Friday night's Roy-Box Elder football game.

They got the party started with an hour-long assembly on Friday morning, where filmed highlights of many of McMahon's most heroic moments were shown to the Royal student body, faculty, family and friends. His old college coach, BYU's legendary LaVell Edwards, made an appearance and a short speech at halftime of Friday's game, where Jim's parents Jim Sr. and Roberta, girlfriend Laurie, his sister and brother-in-law, many of his high school coaches and longtime friend Pat Hanley were among those on hand to help honor the former Roy High great.

Former Roy High, BYU and NFL football player Jim McMahon has his number retired as he stands with his former Roy High football coaches Ernest Jacklin, Ralph Carter and Orvill Smith during half time at Roy High School in Roy on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011.   (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Former Roy High, BYU and NFL football player Jim McMahon has his number retired as he stands with his former Roy High football coaches Ernest Jacklin, Ralph Carter and Orvill Smith during half time at Roy High School in Roy on Friday, Sept. 16, 2011. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

"Jim McMahon was one of the greatest quarterbacks we've ever had around here," Edwards told the standing-room-only crowd. "Congratulations to Jim and his family and to Roy High School for recognizing him, and to his old high school coach, Ernie Jacklin, who got him ready to come to BYU and do some great things for us."

McMahon, 52, was grateful for the love and support shown to him since he returned to his old high school stomping grounds.

"It's been a great couple of days for my folks and myself," he said. "I thank you all very much for supporting us, and I thank the city of Roy for the outpouring of love and support they've shown us.

"I also want to thank my college coach, LaVell Edwards, for putting up with me for five years, and thank the guy who taught me how to play quarterback at BYU, Gifford Nielsen (who also attended Friday's game).

"I was here for two years and had a great time here," McMahon said of his Roy roots. "We won a lot of ballgames, not only in football, but we did well in basketball and baseball, too. We went to the state playoffs and had a pretty good athletic program when I was here.

Former Roy High, BYU and NFL football player Jim McMahon acknowledged the support he received from the community for his induction into the Roy Athletic Hall of Fame. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Former Roy High, BYU and NFL football player Jim McMahon acknowledged the support he received from the community for his induction into the Roy Athletic Hall of Fame. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

"To have your number retired and knowing it won't be worn again … it's a great honor. That's going to be up there forever, as long as the school is here, and to be remembered like that is always nice."

One of his old high school teammates was Fred Fernandes, now in his first year of trying to resurrect a Roy High football program which hasn't had a winning season in nearly two decades.

"It's good to see Freddie; I haven't seen Freddie in 30 years," McMahon said. "He was a sophomore my senior year, and he was my receiver, he was my catcher and a great ballplayer. I'm glad to see him back here getting these guys going again."

McMahon, who graduated from Roy in 1977, is regarded as one of the Royals' greatest all-around athletes ever after a stellar two-year career during which he starred in football, basketball and baseball.

Then it was on to a record-setting collegiate career at BYU, where he re-wrote the NCAA record book and engineered the Cougars' memorable "Miracle Bowl" victory over SMU before embarking on an NFL career in which he and his Chicago Bears teammates performed a memorable Super Bowl shuffle on their way to winning the NFL championship in 1985.

He has rarely returned to Roy, or to Utah, since then. But he seemed sincerely touched by Friday's tribute.

"It was very nice, man," McMahon said following Friday morning's assembly. "It was quite a tribute, and I'm happy for my Dad. My Dad is so excited that all of this is going on, and now if I can get in the BYU Hall of Fame. I've still got to graduate to get in that one. … It's not that big of a deal to me, but it means a lot to Pop."

McMahon is just four classes short of earning his college degree, but he's having a tough time getting it done.

"I don't know if I'm ever going to get through this math class," he said. "I didn't like school when I was in school, and after 30 years I certainly don't like it now. … But hopefully, I'll get it done."

But the former Roy and BYU star couldn't help but reminisce about days gone by, doing so in his customary candid style.

"I had a scholarship to play basketball at Utah State, but how many 6-foot white boys are there in the NBA that can't dunk?" he asked. "And I missed playing baseball, that's all I ever wanted to do. That's why I went to BYU, to play baseball, but they wouldn't let me play after my freshman year because it conflicted with spring football.

"Actually, I always wanted to be a receiver, but I was too slow. And I would've loved to have played hockey. Hit a guy in the face with a stick and only get two minutes? I would've lived in the penalty box."

McMahon, who was injured in an automobile accident earlier this year in Lake Tahoe when his limo driver fell asleep at the wheel, spends his time playing a lot of golf and doing charitable causes such as the Wounded Warrior Project, St. Jude's Children's Hospital and a foundation he helped start for his youngest sister who passed away three years ago.

"I had a great career," he said. "I enjoyed playing wherever I went; I did things my way, which not many people can say they did, I retired at 37 years old and I've been living the American dream ever since.

"I put my kids through college, so I've done pretty well for a little skinny white boy from California and Roy."

But playing the game of football for so many years, and playing the hell-bent way he played it, served to beat up McMahon's body — and, due to concussions, his brain, too. He is part of a lawsuit aimed at the NFL for being irresponsible when it comes to players dealing with concussions and its subsequent health issues.

"I deal with it every day, trying to get out of bed," he said. "That's why I moved to Arizona. The warm, dry heat feels so much better on my body than the humidity. And I've had some symptoms with memory loss, there are some problems.

"The game takes its toll on you. But every guy would do it again. I'd do it again, knowing the risks. It's been a great life."

email: rhollis@desnews.com

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