Some of the biggest buzz regarding BYU football last week came from a guy who hasn't taken the field for the Cougars in more than 32 years.
Former star quarterback Jim McMahon tweeted out on April 17: "ok y"all I passed my stats class I will soon b a graduate of@BYU."
Cougar supporters immediately began favoriting and retweeting the message with many congratulating McMahon on taking the final step needed to be inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame.
BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe responded to @ArtDirectorBYU's tweet that Holmoe should get a little credit by tweeting: "@JimMcMahon This is ALL about Jim. Nice job 9!"
While I wholeheartedly agree that McMahon — who has been in the College Football Hall of Fame for 15 years — deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame at his alma mater, I don't think that's the biggest thing here.
My favorite part of this story is that the brash rebel who eschewed everything BYU was about for much of his life decided to make amends and finish his degree with the institution that helped him get started.
I don't remember watching live action of McMahon playing for BYU, but I watched him during his lengthy pro career and I've seen highlights from his time in Provo.
There's no doubt that as a quarterback McMahon had tremendous arm strength, excellent accuracy and good mobility. He also made a pretty good punter, which was how he got most of his early playing time as a Cougar.
But nothing said "McMahon" more than his attitude.
His egotistical and rebellious personality may have gotten him into trouble in a number of different ways — but they also made him such a successful quarterback.
I remember an interview with Norm Chow that talked about how offenses generally take what a defense gives them, but when McMahon came to BYU he didn't necessarily buy into that philosophy.
Instead, his approach was that he was going to make the play work anyway, that an opposing defense had to prove it was better than he was.
If you look back at McMahon's biography, it's sprinkled with antics both on and off the field that showcased his trademark attitude:
- Against Hawaii in 1980 on a fourth-down play, McMahon punted the ball 35 yards with his left foot to pin the Rainbows inside their own 1-yard line.
- When BYU's situation in the second half of the 1980 Holiday Bowl looked hopeless and the Cougars were going to punt, McMahon reportedly refused to come off the field. BYU head coach LaVell Edwards decided it didn't make sense to punt and the Cougars ended up getting the first down, then a touchdown to spark one of the greatest comebacks in college football history.
- After getting drafted by the Chicago Bears with the fifth pick in the 1982 NFL draft, he reportedly showed off his new freedom from BYU restrictions by coming to his first Bears function with a beer in his hand.
- After being fined by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle for wearing an "adidas" headband on the sideline during the playoffs in 1985, he wore one the next week that said "Rozelle." According to ESPN's SportsCentury biography, Rozelle sent McMahon a note that the headband was "funny as hell."
There are many other examples, and everyone who followed McMahon's flamboyant career probably has their own memories.
But while these tales might show the quirky, wild side of the former BYU record-setting quarterback, the reality is there have been many dark times as well.
Football injuries limited his NFL career and still impact his life. He participated in the lawsuit against the league due to negligence regarding concussions and has said he is now in the early stages of dementia.
Just like most of us, McMahon is a complex individual who has had a lot of ups and downs over the last 40 years.
I don't know what precisely made McMahon decide to finish his coursework at BYU. I know a few years ago he talked about how his kids had graduated from college and he hadn't at that point.
But whether it was the Hall of Fame requirement, the urging of friends and family or just the desire to finish what he completed, I think the most admirable part of McMahon's decision is that he's followed through.
Congratulations, Jimmy Mac.
It will be great to have you join the BYU alumni, no matter how long it took for you to get there.