It must’ve been magical, the sort of thing that could make your pulse quicken and your nerve endings rise up.
To be in the huddle and hear Jim McMahon call a play, well shoot, can you just imagine?
McMahon, the former BYU All-American and ex-Roy High School standout, was enshrined in BYU’s Athletic Hall of Fame on Thursday. On Friday, at halftime of the BYU-Utah State game, his No. 9 uniform number was officially retired and displayed inside LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Behind the athletic ability, the arm and the feet was McMahon’s greatest asset: he could get his teammates to follow him anywhere, at any time.
“He’s my favorite teammate that I’ve ever had, Pop Warner through to the NFL,” BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe said Friday in a small meeting room next to the Cougars’ locker room.
“He was so much fun to be around. He was a serious dude. He was a field general. He was smart, really a student of the game. He played the game to perfection but he had more fun doing it.”
In the late 1970s, when he and McMahon were teammates, Holmoe played on the defensive side of the ball and likely never had the pleasure of actually being in the huddle with Jimmy Mac. But he played against him in practice and, of course, he stood on the sidelines during Cougar games, marveling at his quarterback’s ability to make plays on the field.
“To go out to practice and play with Jim McMahon, it was like sandlot,” Holmoe said. “So, yeah, I’ve never had more fun than playing with Jim.”
Arguably the best quarterback at a school known for its QBs, McMahon has long deserved to be in BYU’s Athletic Hall of Fame. The fact that he wasn’t there was weird, really. But the school has a policy that a degree is required in order to be enshrined and so everyone waited for McMahon to finally find the time and the drive to finish his degree.
“Jim McMahon doesn’t do anything on anyone else’s watch,” Holmoe said.
“He wanted it on his own time and so there came a point in time when called me and said, ‘Let’s go.’”
When McMahon was finally ready, Holmoe and dozens of others went into action, urging their friend to keep going, to earn his degree and claim his rightful spot in the school’s Hall of Fame.
They did it because they cared about him. And why did they care so much? Easy. Because he was a great teammate and a charismatic leader.
“There were so many people that were involved in helping him and so many people wanted it, nobody more than the teammates,” Holmoe said. “It becomes official today but in our hearts it didn’t matter. It wouldn’t really matter to us, we knew where he stood amongst the great ones. It didn’t have to be formalized.”
No, perhaps it didn’t. To those who played with him, to those who stood in the huddle with him, a plaque could tell them nothing they didn’t already know. McMahon was the kind of leader who never put himself above them.
Often when his receivers dropped a pass, they came back to the huddle and heard McMahon say, “Don’t worry about it. My fault. I’ll put the next one right on the money.”
And it made them want to play a little harder. It made them determined to catch the next one no matter what.
“Without them doing their job, I couldn’t do mine,” McMahon said. “I can’t block for myself and throw to myself. I couldn’t play defense. You need those guys. I always got along well with my teammates.”
He did and because he did those teammates pushed him when he wasn’t sure he really wanted to finish that degree.
Edwards and great Cougar QBs Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer all played a role in urging McMahon to finally get his degree and claim his rightful place in BYU’s Hall of Fame.
When he wasn’t sure, but they were.
“They went above and beyond what they had to do to get this done,” McMahon said.
Well of course they did, because sometimes even great teammates – great leaders – need a push in the right direction.
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