Undeniably successful in his own right during the 1980s, it seems the man known as “Mad Mac” would thrive in the modern National Football League.
He had a big personality perfect for social media, throws the ball a ton, and suffered a few avoidable concussions. He also lacerated his liver during one super-violent game, but that game is just another page from Jim McMahon lore.
Lore surrounds “Darth Vader” McMahon, most of it his own creation. But today, numerous head and neck injuries suffered during his NFL career have slowed the quarterback down.
The retirement was fitting for McMahon, though, as his life has been full of unexpected turns. His life has not always been easy, but Black Sunshine has always shone through the darkest hours. His long career made the kid from New Jersey a millionaire.
Early Life & College Career
Jim McMahon (date of birth: August 21, 1959) was born when the hit Elvis song A Big Hunk O’ Love rocked the American airwaves. The song title is a more accurate description of McMahon’s personality than his zodiac sign (Leo).
McMahon and his family moved from his birthplace of Jersey City, New Jersey, to San Jose, California, when he was too young to remember. The American national spent most of his adolescence in San Jose and attended Andrew Hill High School before moving to Roy, Utah, to play at Roy High School.
McMahon joined the Brigham Young University Cougars for college football, though not as a quarterback. During his freshman year at BYU, the future Super Bowl quarterback started as a punter.
Well, that didn’t last long. The punter soon took over the starting QB position, an unexpected turn, in 1978. He finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting in 1980.
As the Cougars’ starting quarterback in 1978, 1980, and 1981 (redshirted due to injury in 1979), McMahon won 32 games while only taking seven losses. During his senior season, McMahon was named First-Team all WAC, won WAC Player of the Year, and led BYU to a WAC Championship.
McMahon couldn’t get out of Provo, UT, fast enough after his college career ended. BYU is explicitly Mormon, and if you know anything about McMahon, you know “Mad Mac” ain’t Mormon.
Darth Vader doesn’t follow the rules. Black Sunshine needs his coffee. BYU asked McMahon to leave their campus after his senior season (BYU, if anything, is polite). McMahon was already out the door.
Jim McMahon in the NFL
Mike Ditka thought it was hilarious. Just kidding. Mike Ditka doesn’t think anything is hilarious, especially not in 1982.
The tension between Ditka and his wild quarterback would remain a storyline for years to come. Perhaps the friction gave McMahon the spark he needed to produce; quite likely, it was something both men fed off. It was likely something the whole team fed off.
The Chicago Bears in the 1980s were more ferocious than a pair of hungry grizzlies. They made rad music videos, too.
Some interesting facts about that video from the “Mad Mac” himself: the video was not a part of the original record deal. As such, players were pissed about having to do it. Adding insult to injury, they scheduled the shoot for the morning after their only loss of the 1985 season. No one was happy about that.
McMahon and Walter Payton were defiant and skipped the shoot. The producers called a few weeks later, threatening to sue. Those threats forced the pissed-off pair of Payton and McMahon to do the shoot, to two main effects:
- McMahon and Payton’s parts are green-screened over the rest of the team. It wasn’t written like that.
- McMahon and Payton are seriously pissed they are even participating. Look at their performances compared to the rest of the team. Feels less enthusiastic, don’t it?
McMahon earned an on-and-off starting spot his rookie season. The Bears blew during 1982 but found their drive by 1985. The only loss came in an away game against the Miami Dolphins the evening before the famed video shoot.
No matter — the ’85 Chicago Bears didn’t just beat most teams they played; they straight up mauled them. Da Bears ripped through the postseason, winning the three playoff games, including Super Bowl XX, by a combined score of 91-10.
It’s hard to comprehend how dominant they were; no wonder Chicago loves Da Bears.
McMahon made the Pro Bowl that season, and it was the height of his career. The Bears remained good, but never that good again. A few seasons later, the Bears traded McMahon to the San Diego Chargers. Black Sunshine lasted one year in SoCal before going to Philly as a free agent in 1990.
McMahon had his second-most incredible season in 1991. He helped lead the Philadelphia Eagles to a 10-6 record and won NFL Comeback Player of the Year. It was an award well-earned and not even his final season of relevance as an NFL QB.
He joined the Minnesota Vikings in 1993 and posted an 8-4 record as the Purple passer. He became an Arizona Cardinal the next season and then did the unthinkable by joining Da Bears’ number one rival: Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. McMahon became a Cheesehead in 1995.
McMahon defeated the New England Patriots in both of his Super Bowl victories.
Such stories a perfect segue into the weird and wonderful world of Jim McMahon lore.
Jim McMahon Lore
Where to start, where to start, where to start! If you watched the above interview, you heard one of his craziest stories that took place before football: McMahon stabbed his eye out with a fork as a kid. Ouch! That’s why he wears the sunglasses.
The sunglasses gave McMahon two of his many nicknames: Darth Vader and Black Sunshine. But it doesn’t end there. The two-time Super Bowl Champ is also known as Jersey Jim, The Punky QB, or McManiac. McManiac is my favorite, and I wish they had made a crossover sandwich to promote both brands.
McMahon lived like a maniac in college, at least by Mormon standards. I can sum up his entire BYU experience (off the field, at least) in one quote: “You had to find girls who kept their mouths shut.”
It’s a wonder Brigham Young University waited till McMahon’s senior season to ask him to leave, but the Lord works in mysterious ways, especially if you’re a game-winning quarterback.
And speaking of BYU, McMahon finally graduated a Cougar 33 years after he bolted from Provo. McMahon wore a dope suit to the ceremony, only confirming his love of flowers.
But his lore continues in the NFL. McMahon technically played for seven NFL franchises, not just the six mentioned. He allegedly played for the Cleveland Browns with Bill Belicheck, but no one remembers or believes him.
McMahon makes the news for limo accidents, divorces, marijuana, stem cells in Colombia, the Chicago Slaughter (not as bad as it sounds), television shows, headband controversies, and family restaurants.
Any chef that busy is bound to be worth some dough.
Jim McMahon Net Worth & Now
The former NFL quarterback lives in Arizona.
The dry air is better for inflammation, a chronic condition he battles in his brain and joints. McMahon has become a vocal advocate for holding the NFL accountable for keeping CTE research quiet. McMahon suffered his fair share of brutal injuries over his career. He goes to great lengths to recover today.
McMahon’s first wife was his BYU sweetheart (a girl who could keep her mouth shut?) Nancy Daines. They had four children together: Alexis, Sean, Zach, and Ashley. Daines and McMahon divorced in 2009.
McMahon starred on a Sports Illustrated cover with his then-girlfriend Laurie Navon in 2012. The cover blurb implies that Laurie took as many pictures with McMahon as possible, in case his dementia caused him to forget her one day. They had broken up by 2018 when McManiac in the Sack went out with Mayra Montoya. His current marital status, according to most wikis, is single.
McMahon is an advocate for medical marijuana use. He claims it helped him get off painkillers in the NFL, which only poisoned his body. He uses his continued recovery as a point of inspiration. McMahon moonlights as a motivational speaker. He’s even spoken to soldiers in Iraq.
It’s an unexpected turn for some punk kid known for pissing off coaches. But for Jim McMahon, it’s just another turn from a life full of busted expectations.