It's a picture that somehow won't come into focus, a pretty girl with one blue eye and one brown one. Quarterback Jim McMahon had just done it again for the Chicago Bears, this time against the Green Bay Packers. He moved Chicago 41 yards with two flicks of his right arm, Kevin Butler kicked a 52-yard field goal with :00 showing on the clock, and the Bears prevailed 26-24.
Three weeks, three fourth-quarter heart-stoppers. Down by 12 points going into the final 15 minutes against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Oct. 25, Chicago won by one as McMahon dramatically returned from a shoulder injury that some people thought had ended his career. Trailing the Kansas City Chiefs by 11 with one quarter to go on Nov. 1, he fired two passes to Willie Gault, and the Bears won by three. On Sunday the Packers led by eight as the fourth quarter opened and by one with a minute left. Three possessions for McMahon's crew in the final period, three scores. The magic is back. Or is it?
"I hate to think of what will happen when we run out of miracles," said McMahon, standing by his locker after the game, trying to knot a black leather tie that wouldn't cooperate. A radio guy shoved a mike in his face and said, "Do you think that instead of calling you the Monsters of the Midway, they'll be calling you the Cardiac Cubs?"
At one time, McMahon would have snarled at this display of media flippancy, but this is the new McMahon, lower-keyed, happy to be back among the living. He actually gave the question some thought. Then he said, "We can't continue to play this way. We're not playing well, but we keep winning. It's scary. If I had thrown well, it would have been a different game. The receivers kept getting open, and I kept missing them. As open as they got, I should've had a 400-yard day."
Four hundred yards? Do you know how many 300-yard games McMahon has had in his six-year NFL career? Dan Marino and Dan Fouts crank out 300-yarders every 20 minutes. McMahon, who completed 21 of 42 throws for 259 yards and one TD and was intercepted twice by the Pack, has had none—zero. In fact, he never has had to throw as many times as he did on Sunday. It hadn't been necessary. Chicago crushed people with its defense and ran the ball down its opponents' throats. McMahon kept everything running right, and he inspired the Bears. And when they needed him to get the ball to someone, he did that, too.
But they're a different animal now. Sure, the cardiac stuff is great, and the fans love it, but where's the defense? Chicago is using the same people, so how are teams like the Buccaneers, the Chiefs and the Packers piling up those big leads?
Poststrike blahs, says team president Mike McCaskey. A matter of timing, of being too anxious, says middle linebacker Mike Singletary. "You'll see the real Bear defense this Sunday." Singletary said that two days before the game.
Better put it on hold for a while. Among other transgressions, the defense (which must make do for at least a month without end Dan Hampton and linebacker Otis Wilson, who suffered knee injuries on Sunday) let Green Bay move in for the 47-yard field goal that put it ahead with a minute left—neatly setting up the Jim McMahon Show. "You've got to give him credit," said Packer linebacker Brian Noble. "His arm isn't 100 percent. He's not throwing with the zip and accuracy he had. He's getting it done through sheer determination. He could've gone in the tank after the two interceptions [which led to two first-half TDs], but he stood back and let 'em fly."
In the days before the game there was talk that coach Mike Ditka might hold McMahon out of the Green Bay game. McMahon had pulled a groin muscle against Kansas City. Further, the weather forecast called for possible showers at game time. That meant a less than mobile McMahon could be playing on a slippery field against a team known in recent years for its viciousness. To wit: noseguard Charles (Too Mean) Martin body-slamming McMahon out of action for the 1986 season. So why risk the well-being of a vital player when your team is 6-1 and has its usual stranglehold on the division?
"If I were real nervous about it I'd hold him out," said Ditka, "but I always thought that the game's supposed to be played with both teams putting their best players on the field."