One reason journalism students gravitate toward sports is the wealth of good news. There always seems to be a feel-good story in sports. There is always a Cinderella, a record broken, or someone that overcomes obstacles to accomplish great things.
To scan the headlines today is to question if this still holds true. Apparently, Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress is not beloved by his players. Former NFL star David Megget has been sentenced to 30 years in prison. “Watch that little Meggett run,” was a famous play-by-play call in the early ‘90s. Apparently, he couldn’t run from this.
Randy Moss isn’t happy. Enes Kanter is in limbo. And Zenyatta lost by a nostril. I guess that is good news for Blame, but I wasn’t rooting for Blame.
But the most troubling news comes from another NFL icon. More troubling than 30 years in prison because it is not a sentence handed down for doing the wrong thing. It is a sentence for doing the right thing too many times.
As a player many thought the outrageous Jim McMahon had lost his mind. Now he has lost his memory. McMahon says he has trouble remembering the games he played, which is sad because we remember them so well. He does not remember the 1985 games against Minnesota where he came off the bench to rally the Bears with three touchdown passes after spending the week in the hospital.
“My memory’s pretty much gone,” McMahon told the Chicago Tribune in a recent interview. “There are a lot of times when I walk into a room and forget why I walked in there.”
McMahon, now 51, was more than a football player with the Chicago Bears. He became a pop icon for his combination of defiant swagger and ability to win. He threw some of the worst passes ever displayed in the NFL. Some looked no better than a middle schooler trying to throw a pillow 30 yards. But he won. Teammates loved to play with him and he always seemed to get the most from them. He led the 1985 Bears to a Super Bowl and the Super Bowl Shuffle was born.
In 1980 at BYU, he led one of the great comebacks in college history. The Cougars trailed SMU by 20 point with four minutes to play in the Holiday Bowl. That was enough time for McMahon to lead his team to three touchdowns, including the game-winning Hail Mary.
Now he cannot recall the game.
McMahon held 70 NCAA records when he left college. But success does not make you immortal. It only makes you feel immortal.
McMahon was in the mold of Brett Favre. A gunslinger that didn’t mind making a hit or throwing a block. It was a mentality that won fans on the field. He is paying for it now.
“You could only play the game one way,” he said. “It was the only way I knew how to play. I wouldn’t change anything. I’d do it again, even though I know it’s going to hurt.”
That’s the reason the NFL, college, and high school has to mandate rules that protect the athletes. There were several shocking hits in NFL games this week where players lay motionless after brutal hits. Receivers lay on the field like crumpled pieces of paper. The New York Giants have knocked four opposing quarterbacks out of games this year.
If you ask the players, like McMahon, they only know one way to play. We love to watch them play without fear. But let’s make sure we can all remember and then it will be worth it.
Mitch Howard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org