We wouldn’t admire Jim McMahon so much if he wasn’t … Jim McMahon.
If the former BYU star and Super Bowl-winning quarterback was more like the rest of us – if he played it safe or worried just a little too much about what others thought – we wouldn’t love him like we do.
And when I say “we” I mean “sports fans.”
I mean, “football fans.”
I mean, “life fans.”
BYU on Thursday officially announced McMahon will be inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame on Oct. 2. Additionally, the former Roy High School standout will also have his No. 9 jersey retired during halftime of the BYU-Utah State game at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
McMahon should have been honored years ago, and would have, in fact, if he’d met the requirements for enshrinement. Specifically, he hadn’t graduated.
But now he has crossed that goal line and, happily, his career at BYU can be properly celebrated.
If you’re looking for anyone here to rip BYU for not making an exception or to take a crack at the school’s administration for somehow being “holier-than-thou” look somewhere else. Even if I believed it (I don’t) it would be totally inappropriate to take the spotlight away from McMahon today.
But if, on the other hand, you’re looking for someone to pay tribute to McMahon’s rich personality and incredible fighting spirit, you’ve come to the right place.
For starters, I think we can all agree the vast majority of sports fans in the state, whether they’ve got ties to BYU, Utah, Utah State, Weber State or any other school, consider themselves Jim McMahon fans.
That fact alone makes him pretty special. McMahon ruffled feathers in Provo and that definitely made him a maverick, which understandably broadened his appeal across the state.
Because he didn’t exactly fit the school’s image (an understatement, I know), McMahon raised some eyebrows among the faithful. And yet he also routinely gave them reason to raise their hands in victory on Saturdays.
Make no mistake, BYU fans love the man. Even when he didn’t have the kindest things to say about the school, its administration or even Provo itself, ol’ Jimmy Mac was still a Cougar and they loved him for it.
Four years ago this month, when McMahon and several other members of BYU’s famed quarterback club gathered to honor coach LaVell Edwards, McMahon became the center of attention.
“We all love Jim,” a former teammate said. “We all care about him.”
That day, at the Riverside Country Club, where McMahon and the others played golf with coach Edwards and many other giddy Cougar fans, McMahon was asked if he really understood how much he is loved in Provo.
“I've always gotten along great with my teammates and most of the time with LaVell,” he said, dressed in funky plaid shorts, a bucket hat and the ever-present sunglasses. “But I know I've got a lot of good fans here in Utah. I spent seven years here and met a lot of great people.”
I don’t think that was a throw away answer. He meant it sincerely because, well, he’s Jim McMahon and he always speaks his mind.
He was equally sincere when he said coolly, “I had a great time on Saturdays. The rest of the week was a little rough, but Saturdays were always fun.”
Not everyone can get away with that, but McMahon does because he’s so well thought of here in Utah. Heck, it’s why he’s so well thought of.
In addition to being able to speak his mind with a James Dean-sort of flair, we think so highly of McMahon because of his ability to stage jaw-dropping comebacks. And in much the same way he played the game, he has once again through when others had perhaps given up.
He’ll always been remembered, of course, for leading the Cougars in that great comeback win in the 1980 Holiday Bowl.
“I didn't know we could win it but I thought we could make it close, make a game out of it,” he once said. “I mean, I didn't want to go out like that. We had a great season all year long and to play that poorly in the first half was disappointing for us. But we righted the ship and got a couple breaks in the second half and the rest is history.”
Sound familiar? See the parallel?
He did it again, he shrugged off the doubters and gladly proved them wrong.
All these years later, he just picked up another win.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo