Every fan has a favorite game. Mine was played on Sept. 19, 1985, in the third week of the season, the Bears versus the Vikings in the Metrodome, which Mike Ditka, to the annoyance of Minnesotans, referred to as the Roller Dome. The Bears had defeated New England without incident the week before, but Mac had ended up in Lake Forest Hospital, where he spent two days in traction. Fans serious enough to read injury reports would have assumed Number 9 wrenched himself while executing like a daredevil.
No one played like Jim McMahon. Most quarterbacks avoid contact; McMahon actually sought it out. He loved hitting and getting hit. Ditka described him as a quarterback who thinks he’s a linebacker. At the end of scoring plays, he’d race downfield, 20 or 30 yards, in search of a lineman to head-butt. A football kiss. “No question that he shortened his career because of the way he played,” Ditka said. “He ran, dove, hung onto the ball too long. . . . He had no regard for his body. But I couldn’t change him. It would have ruined him.” Only later did we learn the truth: McMahon had not hurt his back in the game but while sleeping on a water bed. Years ago, when I went to a neurologist complaining of numb fingers—I thought I had a brain tumor—he told me that I was suffering from a condition known as park bench palsy, a name derived from hobos who passed out on benches with one arm hooked over the top. It’s also called honeymoon palsy, as it’s common among new husbands, who, not wanting to be rude, let their brides sleep all night on their outstretched arms. Mac had suffered water bed palsy: a win over the Patriots, a drunken debauch, a stumble upstairs, a swoon into the watery waste, followed by hours of dreamless sleep in the most awkward position.