During a panel discussion at the Bears100 Celebration, former Bears Pro Bowl quarterback Jim McMahon provided his unique insight on a wide variety of topics.
The punky QB discussed his career in Chicago, his wild public persona and teaming with Hall of Famer Walter Payton. McMahon also explained why he actually feared for his life while playing in Super Bowl XX.
Sharing the stage Saturday with current Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, McMahon praised the team, its fans and the city of Chicago.
“This town has always been a Bear town,” McMahon said. “It’s always going to be a Bear town. This is a hard-working town and these fans appreciate hard-working players. They know who plays hard and who doesn’t. If you play hard for Chicago, they’ll love you. And if you play hard and win, they’ll love you forever.”
McMahon spent his first seven NFL seasons with the Bears after being selected with the fifth pick in the first round of the 1982 draft. He compiled a 46-15 record as a starter while passing for 11,203 yards and 67 touchdowns.
McMahon played the game with a unique style. A gifted passer who set or tied 56 NCAA records at BYU, he was a fierce competitor. Brash and cocky, McMahon was beloved by teammates, especially the offensive linemen he head-butted to celebrate touchdowns.
McMahon was rebellious as well. He sported a mohawk haircut and always wore sunglasses—due to an eye injury he had suffered as a child. He frequently changed plays called by coach Mike Ditka, incurring Da Coach’s wrath.
Yet McMahon feels that his public persona didn’t really reflect who he truly was.
“I didn’t make up the punky QB lyrics, I didn’t make up a lot of the things I saw in the media,” McMahon said. “I did stuff to make myself laugh and to make my teammates laugh and to have a good time.
“You get to work at eight in the morning every day and you get home at six, so you’re with these guys all day long and a lot of it’s boring. You’ve got to try to have a little bit of fun, and that’s what I tried to do. Whether they took that as I’m being a maverick or I’m being a crazy whatever, I didn’t care. It wasn’t going to affect my on-the-field play.”
McMahon adored Payton, a superstar running back who retired in 1987 as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. Sweetness was recently selected as the top player in franchise history by writers Dan Pompei and Don Pierson in the Chicago Bears Centennial Scrapbook.
“Walter was a great teammate,” McMahon said. “He never said, ‘give me the ball,’ never was a selfish player. He always did his job and he did it professionally.”
McMahon captivated the crowd while discussing an incident that occurred the Thursday before Super Bowl XX in New Orleans. It started when a New Orleans sportscaster reported on the air that a radio disc jockey had told him that McMahon had referred to the people of New Orleans as "dumb" and had used an even more derogatory term to describe local women.
The story was completely fabricated—the television station apologized and suspended the sportscaster—but not everyone realized McMahon was innocent. The New Orleans Hilton, where the Bears were staying, received a bomb threat, and women gathered outside the hotel to protest what they thought McMahon had said about them.
“I was getting death threats from Thursday on,” McMahon said at the Bears100 Celebration. “Sunday was almost a blur to me. I’d seen ‘Black Sunday’ and all those crazy movies. I was more worried about getting out of New Orleans alive than the game.
“It scared the hell out of me. We practiced at the old Saints facility. There was an apartment complex right behind that facility, overlooked the whole field. Nobody would stand by me at practice. I had to wear a different uniform [number].”
McMahon revealed that the two things he’s most often asked about are winning the Super Bowl and the Super Bowl Shuffle.
“I don’t know what it is about that damn song,” he said. “We did that to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving and Christmas. That was our idea when all that started. Then it just took on a life of its own.”
McMahon, who now lives in Arizona, closed his session by revealing how much he enjoyed returning to Chicago for the Bears100 Celebration.
“This city has been great,” he said. “I lived here for 28 years. I love the fans here, I love coming back. It’s always special to come back here and be part of this team. It was just like we just left the locker room the other day. The stories that come around and the friendships, that’s the thing that we miss, just hanging out with each other.”
Get an exclusive look at the final day of legacy panels, autograph signings, and other activities from Bears100 Celebration Weekend featuring current players and Bears legends.