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The Bear In Mind

Feb. 03, 1986
Feb. 03, 1986

Table of Contents
Feb. 3, 1986

Super Bowl XX
World Cup Skiing
Fighter
College Basketball
Hockey
Journey
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

The Bear In Mind

Predictably unpredictable, Jim McMahon labored long to make all of that hucksterism and hype work for him

To the tune of theSuper Bowl Shuffle (and with apologies to Kurtis Blow and rap music ingeneral):

This is an article from the Feb. 3, 1986 issue Original Layout

I'm McMahon, yeahthe football punk
Droppin' my pants, showin' some, uh, spunk
Shades and headbands, not missin' a beat
Adidas on everything, forget about it, Pete
My public is callin', man. What d'you think?
The Super Bowl's nothin' but a trip to the shrink
"Sluts? " "Idiots? " I never said squat
Why Noo Aw Leens is groovy, like hot
I should know, it made my career
Thanks to Hiroshi stickin' them needles in my rear
No damn doubt the Bears would kick some butt
Now I'm a legend, is this one great country or what?

This is themeasure of the effect Jim McMahon created on football's global village duringyear XXVII, week XXIII of his still raw and abstruse life: In the end it didn'tmatter who won the game. Along about Thursday, McMahon had won the moment; heowned the Super Bowl—lock, stock, cause and effect, wonders and warts, blankminute, Up With People (not to mention punkers) and all.

Was thisunprecedented? Well, yes. Other immortals had come close to this quid pro quocoup in the past, however unconsciously. Hollywood Henderson, John Matuszak,Duane Thomas—the last by not talking; now there was a real hero. Just the soundof the names brings a lump to the throat. And of course, the progenitor,Broadway's own Joe Namath.

But amusing andexciting the populace is one thing—Namath merely popped a few dozen whiskeysand "guaranteed" victory. Did every poor lost soul on any street at anySuper Bowl anytime anywhere try so desperately to talk, act and look like JoeWillie?

Sorry,history.

So let's hear it,Chicago:

We're not here tostart no trouble
We're just bein' Jimmy Mac's double

And sure enoughhere they came, fairly engulfing the Vieux Carré in their McMahon butchhaircuts and their McMahon billboard shirts and their McMahon black glassesaffixed with glitter straps and their McMahon white headbands labeled witheverything from ROZELLE—a bargain at five bucks—to GRABOWSKI and ultimately toI NEED THIS. And then they proceeded to do everything McMahon-like excepthead-butt strippers and derelicts off the wrought iron verandas. McMahon waseverywhere, at least strange in-the-flesh facsimiles were. And the folks whoweren't trying to be him would undoubtedly be talking about him.

So what if Libyanplanes were staring America down over the Gulf of Sidra? Did McMahon really saythose things about the people of the city? Gramm-Rudman? Aren't those McMahon'swalk-around guys in the Hawaiian shirts? Voyager 2 photographed 10 new moonsaround Uranus? Did you hear that McMahon swung by his heels through all thosebrassieres in the rafters at the Old Absinthe House and then vomited on FrankSinatra?

The man himselfplayed 'em one rumor at a time. "Personality?" he asked at onepoint—precisely whether that point was before he mooned a helicopter at aBears' practice or after he demanded that acupuncturist Hiroshi Shiriashi beallowed to treat him to save posterity as well as his own posterior has beenblurred by the ongoing enormity of the occasion—"My personality's gotnothing to do with what some——wants to make up."

Yet, eventually itwas confirmed by an authoritative source, none other than McMahon's attorney,Steve Zucker, that his client actually did put on his glow-in-the-dark tightsone leg at a time. "Jim's a real person," said Zucker. This opinion wasdelivered in the midst of an extraordinary impromptu media debriefing Zuckerobligingly conducted for approximately 800 million newshawks, the fallout fromMcMahon's own semihastily called press conference. These poor ink-stained andblow-dried wretches were trying to determine what somebody named Buddy the TVsportscaster was erroneously told by somebody named Boomer the disc jockeyabout what McMahon allegedly had said at some time around 6 a.m. on Wednesdayin Toney's Spaghetti House. Maybe.

What McMahon andZucker told everyone was that the quarterback had never labeled New Orleanswomen as "sluts" or the city's men as "idiots," as had beenreported on a local television station. However, added to the acupuncture flapand to McMahon's moon, which gave fresh nuance to New Orleans' image as theCrescent City ("I was showing the copter where it hurt," he said), thisepisode placed McMahon flush in the slimelight again. Instantly a score offemale protesters mobilized in front of the Bears' hotel. They were hardlyCreole ladies with flashing eyes softly whispering with tender sighs. MCMAHONHAS NO CLASS. HE ONLY SHOWS HIS——read one of the banners. And then a waiterfrom the hotel restaurant, Kabby's, appeared, passing out menus to thecrowd.

"What was itHunter Thompson wrote about a national political convention—'It's still notweird enough for me?' " said a Chicagoan. "Well, this is."

The scene alsoguaranteed McMahon immunity from being overtaken in the race for Bear of theBowl. William Perry? The Refrigerator had his big chance—a guest shot onNightline—but he went searching for oysters instead, showed up late and had totake a backseat. If you can imagine him fitting in a backseat. "I don'thave a favorite restaurant, don't notice names. I just browse," the Fridgecontributed later.

Otis (My Man)Wilson? The vicious-hitting linebacker took an early lead with "I see gooseeggs" but choked badly when he actually answered a soon-to-be-legendarySuper Bowl week query: "Your barking, Otis? Is it a woof or an arf?"Correct answer, according to My Man: "A woof."

And Bear defenderssuch as Richard Dent, Mike Singletary, Gary Fencik and Dan Hampton opted forsober briefings—well, mostly; Hampton did announce that his new off-seasonhobby would be "cheese-sculpting"—before McMahon was in full roar.

Back at Zucker'spress conference, for example:

Reporter No. 1:"What's McMahon's lawyer's name?"

Reporter No. 2:"Zuck [sic]."

Reporter No. 3:"Mr. Zuck, are you considering legal action?"

Reporter No. 4:"Steve, what's the key to the game Sunday?"

This line ofquestioning did not approach the brilliance of that in some Super Bowlspast—"Let me get this straight, Jim [Plunkett]. Is your mother dead andyour father blind, or is it the other way around?"—but it was in the samegeneral category. The point was that McMahon, this odd four-eyed fellow withthe pain in the caboose and a piece of terry cloth around his head had suddenlyturned the NFL into a personalized MTV—McMahon Tumult Vortex—and nobody coulddo anything about it.

Chicago coach MikeDitka admitted that the McMahon phenomenon took the "pressure" off therest of the Bears and was something "relatively sane. Now if Jim went outand robbed a McDonald's or something, that would be insanity." This is thesame coach who complimented McMahon for possessing "the guts of aburglar" after his quarterback scored two TDs in that 46-10 dog—woof woofwoof—and pony show that passed for a championship game on Sunday.

Before McMahonenlivened that dreary proceeding simply by alternating his heightenedsocial-consciousness headbands—POW-MIA read one; another was labeled PLUTO, thenickname of a former Brigham Young and Bear teammate, Dan Plater, whosefootball career was cut short by a brain tumor—even that wild and crazy PeteRozelle had confessed that the NFL was getting a sort of kick out of McMahon.That should have told you something. Among other things, the commissionercalled our boy "a fascinating folk hero"—obviously in directretaliation for a Boston radio-talk-show host's denigration of McMahon as a"carefully programmed phony flake."

A dog and phonyshow?

Picky picky.

Chicagoans preferto look upon their pride and toy as a genuine enigma: someone who can quietlystroll along Canal Street with his wife and baby on Friday,and then scream,"Let's throw the——ball! Let's put 60 on the board!" at half-time of thebiggest game of his life.

At the top of thelist of slogans the Chicago Sun-Times predicted McMahon might wear on hisheadband on Armageddon afternoon was BRAIN-DAMAGED. The truth is, McMahon wasone sly Bear in New Orleans: the quarterback in pursuit of recklessness in thecity care forgot. Inevitably, he was one man making a difference, taking hisfirst look at our most cherished loaf of Americana hype and hucksterism andswallowing it whole.

It took 20 yearsbut finally the ultimate cult showman had emerged in the sporting world'sultimate pop-art event. All McMahon did was play hard, have fun, win and forcefootball fans everywhere—hopefully even the rabid Patriot fanatic who roamedthe Superdome aisles with his own headband scrawled MCFAGGOT—to look deeperinto this bloated activity that has become the Super Bowl and chuckle at it,him and themselves.

"[McMahon]could cross that line," Rozelle had said. "But we are trying to sellhim. I want him sold."

Guess the man islucky you don't want him assassinated, right, Pete? But hey, lighten up aboutthe "line."

There is arock-'n'-roll lyric that represents football's ambivalent relationship with itsnew rock-'n'-roll signal caller—You can't always get what you want.

And the NFL shouldstencil it on a headband to be permanently strapped around its collectivememory:

But if you trysometime
You just might find,
You get what you need

TWO PHOTOSAPThe Crescent City ladies signed off on him, but the media turned on to McMahon.PHOTOAPMcMahon stuck it to everyone in order to get acupuncturist Shiriashi on the scene.PHOTOWALTER IOOSS JR.The last quarter saw McMohan in basicblue and white with complementing bandages.PHOTOANDY HAYTPayton may think McMahon's flaky, but the backfield mates win with genuine emotion.