What Made Him Great? Bears QB Jim McMahon: Matt Waldman’s RSP Cast

Matt Waldman’s RSP Cast kicks off a new podcast series devoted to scouting reports of past NFL players and what made them great. This month, Matt reviewed the film and explains why Bears’ Punky QB Jim McMahon’s greatness is vastly underrated. 

Jim McMahon Was A Cultural Stamp of the 1980s

He arrived at the Chicago facility in a limousine drinking cans of Budweiser. George Halas, the father of the NFL, greeted him with a gruff assessment: He had a bad eye, he was too small, and his arm was suspect. Halas wondered aloud if his new quarterback was better off in the CFL.

McMahon probably knew Papa Bear was testing him and didn’t hesitate with his answer.

“Then why did you draft me, old man?”

McMahon took over Mike Ditka’s offense, an unimaginative scheme that probably inspired the worst of McMahon’s teammate and future head coach, Jeff Fisher. Shackled with a predictable run game despite having an all-time great in the backfield, McMahon changed the plays as he saw fit.

His aggressive forays downfield coupled with his keen strategic mind for the game swept the clouds of dust from Soldier Field and catalyzed a championship-caliber team.

McMahon was the quarterback that the football movies of that era tried to emulate and failed. Fans and media never understood what John Madden knew: When at the height of his powers, McMahon was arguably the best quarterback of the era — a bold statement bordering on insanity when considering that Joe Montana and Dan Marino ruled the 80s and were among the greatest to ever throw a football in any era.

Madden may have been entertaining, but he was no hot-take con artist. If you scout the game and take a closer look without the mainstream stat-based or “QB wins” mindset, you’ll arrive at a similar conclusion.

I did.

What Makes McMahon Great

Definitely not his stats. This is the measuring stick for most who judge quarterback play. It means that even those who have an appreciation for McMahon often cite the intangibles as the foundation for his greatness.

If you’ve been reading the Rookie Scouting Portfolio’s quarterback evaluations for any length of time, you know that much of what people say is intangible can be defined and graded. You have to go to the film.

This week, I studied the tape on McMahon — past games as well as career highlights and retrospectives on YouTube — and it was easy to see why former BYU teammate Steve Young credited McMahon as much, if not more, than Joe Montana for being the template he needed to learn the position.

In this week’s podcast, I share the insights I gained from McMahon’s game as a technician, a decision maker, an athlete, and a leader and compare him to other quarterbacks of the past with more on-field acclaim.

Listen to the pod, watch some of the videos below, and you’ll get a glimpse at why McMahon’s quarterbacking has subtlety, guts, and technical and strategic greatness.

It’s ironic that at the height of his career and celebrity, McMahon had a huge sponsorship where he uttered the words: “Image is everything,” because his image became the historical narrative overshadowing that greatness.

Links to the videos (the NFL blocked them from viewing outside of YouTube):

Part I

Part II

Part III

And of course, if you want to know about the rookies from this draft class, you will find the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), with the 2022 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95. 

Matt’s new RSP Dynasty Rankings and Two-Year Projections Package is available for $24.95

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2020 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2020 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.  

Best yet, proceeds from sales are set aside for a year-end donation to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse of children. 

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