Born: August 21, 1959
Town: Jersey City, New Jersey
James Robert McMahon Jr. was born August 21, 1959 in Jersey City to Jim and Roberta McMahon. The McMahons moved to San Jose, California when Jim was three. When Jim was six he was horsing around and detached the retina in his right eye with a fork. He was sensitive to light after that. Jim had a powerful and accurate throwing arm and tremendous hand-eye coordination. He excelled at baseball and football as a boy.
Jim enrolled at Andrew Hill High School in San Jose in 1973 and played varsity football for two seasons. He won the starting quarterback job as a sophomore. In 1975, the family moved to Roy, Utah, in the northern section of the state. Jim joined the Roy High Royals as a junior and became the MVP of the football team. He was voted top player on the basketball and baseball teams, too. As a senior in 1976, Jim won all-state honors, passing for 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Jim was recruited by several colleges, including Brigham Young University. Jim was a free spirit and was raised Catholic, so the straight-laced school seemed less than a perfect fit. But BYU was known for its passing offense, so his parents encouraged him to go there. Jim was secretly hoping someone would offer him a baseball scholarship, but that never materialized.
Jim rode the bench as a freshman, seeing time mostly as a punter. He and Marc Wilson split the snaps in 1978, but an injury sent him back to the bench in 1979. Jim decided to red-shirt so he could play two more seasons. In 1980, Jim had the big year everyone expected. He set an NCAA record with 4,571 passing yards and led the nation with 47 touchdown passes. In the Holiday Bowl against Southern Methodist, Jim engineered a comeback win from a 20-point deficit with under 5:00 to go. He won the game on a Hail Mary pass. After a solid senior season, Jim was taken with the fifth pick in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.
Jim guided the Bears to the playoffs in 1984 in his third season. He was unable to play due to a kidney injury in November, but the team made it all the way to the NFC title game thanks to running back Walter Payton and a strong defense. Most Chicago fans felt they would have won the Super Bowl had Jim been behind center. The fans got their wish in 1985 as Jim threw for 2,392 yards and 15 touchdowns, and guided the Bears to a 15–1 regular season record. Chicago shut out the Giants and Rams in the playoffs and beat the Patriots 46–10 in Super Bowl XX. Jim threw for 256 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns in the game.
The Bears kept winning over the next few years, but Jim saw his playing time diminished by a series of injuries. In 1989, Chicago traded him to the San Diego Chargers. Jim later played for the Philadelphia Eagles and Vikings, and was good when he was healthy enough to play. Jim’s final year was 1996. He backed up Brett Favre for the Green Bay Packers.
Jim logged 15 seasons as an NFL quarterback, and never started more than 13 games in any single year. Even so, he threw for over 18,000 yards and an even 100 touchdowns—and was recognized as one of the league’s top field generals. A wild and crazy party boy when he entered the NFL, Jim was a stable family man by the time he retired to suburban Chicago with his wife and four children. Unfortunately, all those helmet-to-helmet hits Jim took started to catch up with him. He was among a group of ex-players who filed suit against the NFL in 2011 for negligence related to concussion-related injuries. In 2012, Jim was diagnosed as being in the early stages of dementia. Looking back, he says he should have stuck to baseball.