In 1986, I received a Christmas gift I cherish to this day. It’s a copy of McMahon – the autobiography of Chicago Bears controversial quarterback Jim McMahon written with Chicago Tribune sportswriter Bob Verdi.
As a 12-year-old growing up in rural Iowa, I idolized the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl team. The defense was one of the more dominant in NFL history with a star-studded cast led by future Hall of Famers – including linebacker Mike Singletary and lineman Dan Hampton, a University of Arkansas alum. And the offense was bolstered by one of my favorite athletes of all time, running back Walter Payton.
But if I had to pick a favorite on that team as a sixth grader, McMahon was most likely at the top, sharing a perch with Payton, because of his rebel persona. When you’re 12 and in elementary school, there are plenty of rules to follow at school and home. So, it was refreshing to see a pro athlete who bucked the system.
Send a helicopter to Super Bowl practice – he’ll moon it. Tell the former BYU football great he can’t wear an Adidas headband under his helmet, he will hand-write ‘Rozelle,’ as in then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, in marker on a white headband and wear it. Show up to training camp on a scooter with cases of beer. He was the ‘Punky QB,’ and I loved it. He was the free spirit I couldn’t be.
Remembering Former BYU QB Jim McMahon
So, after going as McMahon for Halloween that year, my mom realized how big of a fan I was and bought me the book for Christmas. I devoured it, savoring each and every chapter. As school started for the second semester, my advanced English class was learning how to give speeches. Our first assignment was an oral book report. I knew I had just completed the perfect book.
Mrs. Oleson taught us that there were several types of introductions that might be effective to start the presentation. My choice was the ‘attention-grabber.’ I knew there would be more than enough surprising nuggets in the book that would shock the audience. I chose this one.
Many know that Jim McMahon was a star quarterback on the Chicago Bears Super Bowl Champion team, but did you know he wants to be reincarnated as a women’s bicycle seat? I discovered that and many other interesting facts about the ‘Punky QB’ in his autobiography -McMahon.
I wish you could have seen Mrs. Oleson’s face as I confidently recited that intro. She about fell off her chair. I wasn’t really sure what ‘reincarnated as a women’s bicycle seat’ exactly meant, but I knew it was in typical McMahon fashion outlandish and controversial and her reaction only confirmed such. My mom got a call that afternoon from the teacher, and she and discussed what that meant and the potential vulgarity of the statement. That might have been embarrassing for some pre-pubescent boys, but my mom has always been cool, and we’ve been open about things so it was funny more than it was awkward.
I wasn’t really in trouble and got an A on the report, but Mrs. Oleson wanted to share maybe one of the more memorable moments of her teaching career with my mom.
The New QB: Kedon Slovis
I told that story to a colleague recently. McMahon’s name popped in my head for two reasons. One, he will be a Little Rock Touchdown Club guest in October (I will be there with my book in hand). Second, his alma mater plays at Arkansas on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2.
When I think of BYU, I think of the quarterback position. McMahon, even though he didn’t fit in in the straight-laced Mormon institution, was one of the stars of former head coach LaVell Edwards’ high-flying offenses in the early 1980s. The system also produced NFL standouts Steve Young, Marc Wison, Ty Detmer and Gifford Nielsen. Robbie Bosco was also one of the all-time Cougar great QBs, leading BYU to its lone national championship in 1984. Current New York Jets starting QB (thanks to Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending injury), Zach Wilson, is the most recent Cougars QB alum to take snaps in the NFL.
Last season, Arkansas battled BYU QB Jaren Hall, who passed for 356 yards, three touchdowns and an interception in the 52-35 Cougars’ loss. Hall passed on starting his third year at BYU to enter the NFL Draft. It paid off as he was drafted in the fifth round by the Minnesota Vikings. Now, enter Kedon Slovis. Slovis hopes to be the next BYU QB moving on to the NFL after playing for three seasons at USC and another at Pitt.
BYU head coach Kilani Sitake plucked Slovis out of the transfer portal.
“We just wanted to look into the portal and see if there was anyone that could bring some veteran leadership, and [Slovis] was the right guy,” Sitake told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this week. “He fit our program, our culture, perfectly. And he happened to be a really good player that’s been really good for us.”
That’s a culture, by the way, that Jim McMahon in all his provocateur, machismo glory most definitely did not fit.
Slovis passed for only 145 yards in the season-opening 14-0 win against Sam Houston State, which is in its first season as an FBS program. However, in a 41-16 win over FCS Southern Utah, Slovis went 22 of 32 for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns.
“I think we just came out and played better and executed,” he told the ADG. “That’s the team that I have seen all fall camp, and that’s the offense that we are.
“We still [left] a lot of plays out there and yards on the field. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but I’m proud of the guys, and when adversity hit, I thought we did a pretty good job executing.”
Arkansas vs BYU Part 2
If Slovis plays like he did against Southern Utah, the Hogs may have their hands full.
BYU couldn’t stop Razorbacks running back Rocket Sanders (175 yards and 2 TDs) last year in a 52-35 shootout Arkansas pulled out in Provo. However, Saturday night, Arkansas will be without an injured Sanders and there is concern abounding regarding the offensive line.
It may be time for heralded Arkansas QB KJ Jefferson (367 passing yards and 5 TDs against BYU last season) to make a splash this season and outduel Slovis. Arkansas will have to rely on their star QB in the SEC season, especially if Sanders doesn’t immediately return, but even if he does, the running game may not be as potent with the holes that have been evident early in the offensive line.
BYU, now a member of the Big 12, can give Arkansas the test they need heading into the league opener at LSU next Saturday night.
David Bazzel, Little Rock Touchdown Club founder and the former Hogs linebacker, hopes he can good-naturedly rub in a BYU sweep to McMahon when he visits as part of a star-studded lineup on Monday, October 2. Just be ready for the ultimate rebel QB to moon the large crowd if he does.
For more about BYU’s QBs in a provocative way that would make McMahon proud, make sure to watch comedian Matt Besser’s take on Arkansas vs BYU below. He starts off by discussing 170-year-old bulletin board that could work in Arkansas’ favor…
More coverage of Arkansas football and Arkansas vs BYU from BoAS…