James Robert “Jim” McMahon, Jr. (born August 21, 1959) is a former American football player. He played college football at Brigham Young University, where he was a two-time All-American (1980, 1981) and later in the professional ranks with the Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, and Green Bay Packers.
McMahon was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, and moved with his family to San Jose, California when he was three. He played high school football his freshman and sophomore years at Andrew Hill High School in San Jose and played his junior and senior years at Roy High School in Roy, Utah, graduating in 1977.
McMahon mainly served as BYU’s punter during his freshman season (1977), but he played enough at quarterback to throw his first-ever collegiate touchdown pass against UTEP. He continued as the Cougars’ punter as the 1978 season began, but when Marc Wilson was injured in the third game of the season (against Colorado State), McMahon became the starting quarterback. McMahon led BYU to victory against CSU, accounting for 112 passing yards, 80 rushing yards, and two touchdowns. He was named Chevrolet Player of the Game and WAC Player of the Week for his performance. McMahon and Wilson shared quarterback duties for the rest of the season; McMahon played well enough to earn All-WAC honors and Associated Press Honorable Mention All-America. The best game of his sophomore year was against Wyoming: he passed for 317 yards and rushed for 49 more yards, earning another WAC Player of the Week award.
McMahon suffered an off-season injury and BYU coaches chose to redshirt him in 1979. McMahon watched from the sidelines as Wilson set nine NCAA records and tied two others. Wilson became the first BYU player to earn consensus First Team All-American honors, and he finished third in Heisman Trophy balloting.
With Wilson graduated and in the NFL, McMahon beat out Royce Bybee to claim the starting quarterback position. BYU lost the first game of the season (25–21 against New Mexico), but won 11 straight games after that to claim the WAC championship. McMahon set 32 NCAA records, including single-season records for yards of total offense (4,627), passing yards (4,571), touchdown passes (47), and passing efficiency (176.9). His best game was against Utah State; he completed 21 of 33 passes for 485 yards and six touchdowns, and added two rushing touchdowns. That performance earned him Sports Illustrated’s National Player of the Week award. McMahon’s season statistics might have been even better, but he spent significant time on the sidelines because the Cougars won many games by wide margins. Although he started all 12 regular season games, he only finished three of them.
BYU led the nation in passing offense, total offense, and scoring offense during the regular season. McMahon earned numerous awards for his individual accomplishments, being named WAC Player of the Year, unanimous First Team All-WAC, Utah Sportsman of the Year, and Deseret News Athlete of the Year. He was named to four All-America teams and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting.
In the 1980 Holiday Bowl, the Cougars faced an SMU team led by star running backs Craig James and Eric Dickerson, and the Mustangs built a 45–25 lead over BYU with just four minutes left in the game. As Cougar fans headed for the exits, McMahon screamed that the game was not over yet. He guided BYU’s offense to three quick touchdowns, including a 41-yard Hail Mary pass to Clay Brown to win the game as time expired. It is regarded as one of the greatest comebacks in college football history; BYU fans refer to it as the “Miracle Bowl”.
In McMahon’s senior season (1981), despite missing two games due to injuries, he passed for 3,555 yards and 30 touchdowns in the regular season, again leading BYU to a WAC championship. For his efforts, he was named WAC Player of the Year and unanimous First Team All-WAC. On a national level, he was named First-team All-American by five different organizations and finished third in Heisman Trophy balloting. He received the Davey O’Brien Trophy and the Sammy Baugh Award, and he shared the Pigskin Club NCAA Offensive Player of the Year award with USC’s Marcus Allen. He earned Sports Illustrated’s Player of the Week award after his performance against Colorado State, in which he tied a school record with 7 touchdown passes.
In his last game as a Cougar, McMahon passed for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns to lead BYU over Washington State in the 1981 Holiday Bowl. His career totals were 9,536 passing yards and 84 touchdown passes (not including bowl games). McMahon left college with 70 NCAA records and tied for one other. He entered the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999, but is not a member of the BYU Hall of Fame because he is ten credit hours from a degree. In September 2010, McMahon announced that he would complete his coursework at BYU, which would qualify him for the BYU Hall of Fame.