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They were such a charismatic pair five years ago—Jim McMahon and William Perry, the punk quarterback and the hulking Fridge. The first was the talented but rebellious leader; the second was the fatso, cartoonlike defensive tackle who sometimes ran with the ball. Together they helped the Chicago Bears win Super Bowl XX and capture the imagination of America.
With the opening of the Los Angeles Rams' training camp earlier this week signaling the start of another NFL season, McMahon was expected to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles as a backup to Randall Cunningham. It's a sad commentary on the 30-year-old McMahon that in the four years since Chicago won the Super Bowl, he has been no better a player at his position than Perry has been at his. Perry, who missed almost all of the 1988 season with a broken arm and part of the '89 season with a knee injury, started 39 games and had only 12 sacks in the last four seasons. His inability to control his weight has reduced his effectiveness, particularly as a pass rusher.
In the same period, McMahon, who missed most of the 1986 and '87 seasons with shoulder and hamstring injuries and much of '88 with a sprained knee, started 32 games and threw for 33 touchdowns—with 33 interceptions. For the past four years, his cumulative quarterback rating has been a dismal 75.3.
McMahon, who was 35-3 in regular-season starts from late in the 1984 season through '88, was traded by the Bears to the San Diego Chargers before last season for what turned out to be a second-round draft pick (Chicago chose Fresno State linebacker Ron Cox). The Bears were concerned about McMahon's durability, believed he was not playing any better than Mike Tomczak or Jim Harbaugh, and were tired of his impudent attitude.
McMahon started 11 of San Diego's first 12 games, but when the Chargers' record fell to 4-8, they turned the offense over to rookie Billy Joe Tolliver. The cumulative effect of McMahon's mediocre play and his bad act led to San Diego's giving up on him. "The guy was a jerk," one Charger says. "He's just crass." Among other gaucheries, McMahon blew his nose on a reporter when he didn't like the newsman's line of questioning.
McMahon's hallmark used to be clutch performances with time running out, but it's not anymore. The Chargers could have scored the tying or go-ahead points in the last five minutes of eight of the games McMahon started, but the team won only one of them. While old hands like Don Strock, Marc Wilson and Matt Cavanaugh hang around as mentors for young quarterbacks on other clubs, the Chargers didn't want McMahon around as a bad influence on the promising Tolliver. Even coach Dan Henning, who staunchly supported the acquisition of McMahon, wanted to send him packing.
When San Diego couldn't get even a middle-round draft pick for McMahon, it released him in April. One NFL general manager whose interest was piqued by McMahon's availability decided not to sign him. "We're not looking for any disruption around here," he said. "Plus, he's been beat up, and I don't know about his arm strength anymore."
McMahon's agent, Steve Zucker, couldn't find a team that would give McMahon at least a chance to win a starting job. He was a logical match with the Eagles not only because he and Philadelphia coach Buddy Ryan were kindred spirits when Ryan was the Bears' defensive coordinator, but also because the Eagles know that if Cunningham gets hurt, they will need an experienced quarterback to have any hope of reaching the playoffs.
As McMahon fades into the NFL sunset, we can only wonder how great he could have been if....