He's brash, he's bold, he's belligerent, and there have been times when coach Mike Ditka would have cheerfully taken a sewing machine to his motor mouth. He's done for headbands and sunglasses what Cher has done for far-out fashions and loop earrings. But if you are looking for a quarterback who can lead a team to the Super Bowl, there may not be a better one around than Jim McMahon of the Chicago Bears.
Until Jim started the second half of Sunday's game against Tampa Bay, McMahon (because of an injury) hadn't seen National Football League action since Nov. 23, 1986. There were rumors that he was rusty. There were rumors that he could no longer throw with his former speed and accuracy. There were rumors that his mobility had been severely curtailed. There were even rumors that he would never play again.
But McMahon proved otherwise against Tampa Bay, when he took over for Mike Tomczak with his team trailing 23-14. The Buccaneers had the Bears in a headlock, and the game had all the trappings of an upset.
But as he has so many times, Jim saw the oasis and not the mirage. He got Chicago moving by scrambling eight yards for a first down, then quickly completed four of six passes for 41 yards. You could sense that the Bucs' defense was beginning to doubt itself.
McMahon saved his best for the final quarter, when he screwed the cap on the two long scoring drives that gave the Bears a 27-26 victory.
First, after an 85-yard march to the shadow of the Tampa Bay goal line, Jim kept the ball and skipped into the end zone for a touchdown. Then, with only 2:44 to go and just one timeout remaining, McMahon completed five passes, two each to Willie Gault and Neal Anderson, plus one to rookie Ron Morris. Although Gault's final catch set up the touchdown, it was actually scored by Anderson, who took a flip by McMahon in the right flat and launched himself into the end zone.
Afterward, Tampa Bay linebacker Scot Brantly told reporters: ``I admire McMahon more than any quarterback in the game because he makes things happen. He's not a follower but a trend setter. He's like a linebacker in a quarterback's situation.''
Even though McMahon played only a half against the Bucs, he seized that time to complete 17 of 24 passes for 195 yards and one touchdown as the Bears stayed on top of the NFC's Central Division with a 5-1 record.
Ditka's biggest challenge with McMahon at the moment is to find a way to keep Jim off his favorite motorcycle the rest of the week. But Mike's chances of succeeding in this area are about the same as when he ordered a dress code of shirt with collars for his players on all road trips.
McMahon solved that one by showing up at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in a backless T-shirt with a priest's collar fastened around his neck! Super Bowl teams having problems
With the regular campaign approaching the halfway point, the eventual destination of last season's two Super Bowl finalists, the victorious New York Giants and the Denver Broncos, remains in doubt.
The Giants, who were 0-2 before the player strike and saw their replacements lose three more games during it, gave a pretty good imitation of the team everybody expected when they blasted the St. Louis Cardinals 30-7 on Sunday for their first win of the season.
Best of all, New York got a crack performance from quarterback Phil Simms, who threw for three touchdown passes and ran the club well. The defense also allowed a little steel to show by holding St. Louis to 51 yards on the ground and by forcing four turnovers.
Those five losses still loom large, though, and the defending champions know they can't afford many more the rest of the way.
The Broncos are doing a bit better, but are still only third in the AFC West with a 3-2-1 record following Monday night's 34-27 loss at Minnesota. Elsewhere in the NFL
Former Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson is expected to make his NFL debut with the Los Angeles Raiders this week at New England. The one-time star running back for Auburn University has been practicing with the team, but was held out of Sunday's game against Seattle because neither owner Al Davis nor coach Tom Flores thought he was ready. Jackson, who hasn't played any football since 1985, is attempting a two-sport career. He hit 22 home runs this past summer in his rookie major league baseball season at Kansas City, but also struck out 158 times and batted only .235.
Eric Dickerson, who led the NFL in rushing last year with 1,821 yards, has asked the Los Angeles Rams to trade him. Dickerson, who earns more than $600,000 a season, says he is underpaid and has referred to the Rams' new contract offer of $975,000 as a ``ridiculous figure.''