“You fooled ’em all, Chief. Damn! You fooled ’em all!”
— Jack Nicholson to the Indian in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” NEW ORLEANS — Jim McMahon once told me his whole secret in a single sentence. Unfortunately I can’t repeat that sentence in a family newspaper. Well. Actually, I can repeat all but one word of it, I guess. And I will, in a minute. Of course, by now only people living in flotation tanks have not heard of McMahon, the spit-in-your-eye quarterback of the Chicago Bears. Is he Jim Otto or Elvis Costello? Bobby Layne or Abbie Hoffman? The media are having a field day trying to find just the right words for him during Super Bowl week. Feisty? Brash? Head case? Gonzo? Any which way, they eat him up. They revel in his antics: his banging helmets with linemen, his wearing a headband
that says “Rozelle,” his sticking out his tongue at TV cameras. They shove every means of microphone and wide-angle lens in his face, hoping for a laugh, a cuss, an obscene gesture. And in the middle of it all sits McMahon, with his sunglasses, his spandex body suit, a wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth, a sneer on his lips, grease on his hair — and good Lord, he’s got to feel like the guy who made a fortune by inventing the Pet Rock.
How gullible can people be?
Jim McMahon is faking them all out. And they’re lapping it up.
An off-stage confession
Let me jump back to that sentence I mentioned earlier. It was in Chicago, back in November, and the Bears were just starting to become a phenomenon. I happened to catch McMahon alone in the locker room and I guess it was too early in the morning for him to put on an act. He looked normal, acted normal. So normal, in fact, that I finally asked him why so many writers portrayed him as loony. He looked around, then said, quite simply: “Because I (bleep) with them.” He’s been bleeping with them ever since.
Twenty minutes after I left that locker room, McMahon came out for an interview with Jim Lampley of ABC-TV. I barely recognized McMahon. He was in complete costume, looking like a cross between Elvis Presley and a Jedi knight.
Lampley fell for it, asking questions such as, “Why are you so eclectic?” McMahon answered by spitting a wad of tobacco juice at Lampley’s shoe and saying, “Uh, I’m just being me.”
What a show. Listen to him. He says he abhors all this attention: That’s why he did the David Letterman show and the Bob Hope special? He says he’s just being himself: That’s why he makes sure he looks like lead guitar for the B-52s whenever network TV is around?
He is a graduate of Brigham Young, the instant oatmeal of college football. He is married and has two kids, and his wife says he usually goes to sleep by 10 p.m. This is Gonzo?
But the only thing McMahon does better than inspire his teammates is manipulate the media, which, until now, have been only too willing to co-operate. So even today, we have a minor dust storm over a part of McMahon’s anatomy that some feel most symbolizes his true character.
I am talking about that upon which you sit.
Yes, McMahon is suffering from a sore posterior, and is receiving acupuncture treatments for it. Perhaps you’ve read about this. Only at the Super Bowl could rear end become front page.
“Where do they put the needles, Jim?”
“In my a–.”
Ask a stupid question … He needs new material
Anyhow, for a while, the McMahon mania was OK. He was spunky from afar. But he has overplayed it. From up close he’s merely . . . calculated. He says things such as, “I’m ready for Bourbon Street, but I don’t know if Bourbon Street is ready for me.” Ugh. His latest thing is complaining how lousy it is talking to all these media types. I never trust someone who says that into a microphone more than twice.
McMahon swirls up interest, then spits at those who ask questions. He tussled with a photographer in a bar Monday night. Said he didn’t like flashes in his face. His attitude is immature. And it has become annoying. He has yet to prove himself as anything more than a pretty fair quarterback and while his leadership can’t be questioned, his adulthood is still a matter of opinion.
Meanwhile, he goes on like his favorite movie character, McMurphy from
“Cuckoo’s Nest” (the part Nicholson played), because, McMahon said, “Everybody thought he was crazy but he wasn’t. That’s how you guys portray me. I’m not crazy.” Maybe not. But like McMurphy, he works hard at the image. Only now it has worn thin.
McMahon has said a life’s ambition is to get on the cover of Rolling Stone. Good idea. I have just the pose. McMahon holding up his acupuncture needles. I have the caption, too:
One good pain in the butt deserves another.