|JIM McMAHON LOOKS DOWNFIELD FOR WILLIE GAULT.|
September 19, 1985. The Bears are at Minnesota for a Thursday night game against the Vikings.
Jim McMahon doesn’t start at quarterback because a combination of ailments has kept him out of practice. Backup Steve Fuller is behind center for the first two and a half quarters. “I was in [Mike] Ditka’s ear most of the time about putting me in,” McMahon says later. “Steve wasn’t playing all that bad; we just needed a spark.”
The Bears are trailing 17-9 with 7:22 left in the third quarter when McMahon enters the game. On his first play, at the Bears’ 30-yard line, McMahon stumbles taking the snap, regains his footing, then sees that the Vikings’ linebackers are blitzing. “What I also saw,” he recalls, “was Willie Gault running free down the middle, so I just unloaded it to him, and it was a 70-yard touchdown.”
What the national TV audience also saw was Walter Payton obliterating one of the blitzing linebackers with a perfect--and perfectly devastating--block.
After a Wilber Marshall interception, McMahon fires a 25-yard touchdown pass to Dennis McKinnon. He has now taken two snaps and thrown two touchdowns.
On the next possession, McMahon completes passes to Ken Margerum and Gault to move the Bears from their own 32 into Minnesota territory. Then he finds McKinnon streaking downfield for a 43-yard touchdown. There are 33 seconds remaining in the quarter, and the Bears now lead 30-17.
In less than seven minutes, McMahon has completed five of seven passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns, all on improvised plays that bear little resemblance to what Ditka has called. The Bears win 33-24. “The guy, I can’t explain,” says Ditka. “I don’t know what he sees or how he sees what he sees.”
The Bears are 3-0 for the young season.
Excerpted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert.