Jim McMahon wasn’t one of the most durable quarterbacks in the NFL, but he was one of the toughest. Never in his 15-year NFL career did the former Chicago Bears quarterback play in all 16 regular-season games. He never started more than 13 games in a season. His body took a pounding. McMahon, who says he suffers from memory loss, recalls the one play that he said triggered his problem and it could go down as one of the dirtiest plays of all time.
Jim McMahon’s NFL career
Jim McMahon was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 1982 NFL draft. The quarterback out of Brigham Young University was taken with the fifth overall selection. He started in seven games as a rookie, compiling a 3-4 record while throwing nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.
His best season came in 1985 when he led the Bears to one of the best seasons in NFL history. He went 11-0 as a starter during the regular season and he guided the Bears to a Super Bowl title. That season, McMahon’s only Pro Bowl one, he threw for a career-high 2,392 yards and also added 15 touchdown passes. In his seven seasons with the Bears, McMahon went 46-15 as a starter.
After playing one season with the San Diego Chargers, McMahon went on to play three seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles as a backup to Randall Cunningham. When Cunningham got injured in 1991, McMahon filled in and went 8-3 as a starter. He was named Comeback Player of the Year that season. McMahon played for six different teams in his 15 years in the NFL.
McMahon’s memory problems
In 2012, Jim McMahon found out he was suffering from the early stages of dementia, according to Yahoo! Sports. McMahon, whose first love is baseball, played baseball at BYU and wishes he had gone that route full time. “Being injured, if you don’t play, you don’t get paid. If I was able to walk out on that field, I was gonna play,” he said in an interview with Chicago’s WFLD-TV. “Had I known about that stuff early on in my career, I probably would have chosen a different career. I always wanted to be a baseball player anyway.
“I went to college I played both sports, I would have stuck to that. That was my first love was baseball and had I had a scholarship to play baseball, I probably would have played just baseball. But football paid for everything, it still does. That Super Bowl 20 team is still as popular as it ever was. Until they win again, we’re gonna still make money.”
In 2011, McMahon joined roughly 2,000 other former NFL players in a lawsuit against the league for hiding the risk of concussions. “The guys that started the lawsuit out … these guys are in dire needs. Both financially and in their health,” McMahon said. “I didn’t make a lot of money in the ’80s, so you know what these guys made. A lot of them had to have jobs in the off season, this and that … I’ve never had a job other than the NFL, and I hope to never have one. I’m not in it for the money.”
McMahon pinpoints the hit that triggered his memory loss
In an interview on Golf Sub Par, Jim McMahon said he can remember the hit that he believes began his memory loss. The hit came in November of 1986 when the Chicago Bears were hosting their rivals, the Green Bay Packers. Packers defensive end Charles Martin grabbed McMahon well after his pass was thrown and body-slammed McMahon to the turf in what could be one of the dirtiest plays of all time. Martin was ejected and then suspended.
“That was the start of all the problems with my head,” McMahon said. “When he slammed me, the first thing that hit the ground was the top of my head. It compressed my C1 and C2 (vertebrae). It actually twisted them and got them in opposite directions. I was having trouble with my spinal fluid flowing properly.”
Jerry Markbreit, who officiated the game, told ESPN in 2012 that Martin’s very late hit on McMahon was the worst he had ever seen. “There were a lot of late hits but (Martin’s) had to be 10 to 12 seconds after the play was over. It was the most violent act of its day,” he said.