They were such a charismatic pair five years ago—Jim McMahon and William Perry, the punk quarterback and the hulking Fridge. The first was the talented but rebellious leader; the second was the fatso, cartoonlike defensive tackle who sometimes ran with the ball. Together they helped the Chicago Bears win Super Bowl XX and capture the imagination of America.
With the opening of the Los Angeles Rams' training camp earlier this week signaling the start of another NFL season, McMahon was expected to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles as a backup to Randall Cunningham. It's a sad commentary on the 30-year-old McMahon that in the four years since Chicago won the Super Bowl, he has been no better a player at his position than Perry has been at his. Perry, who missed almost all of the 1988 season with a broken arm and part of the '89 season with a knee injury, started 39 games and had only 12 sacks in the last four seasons. His inability to control his weight has reduced his effectiveness, particularly as a pass rusher.
In the same period, McMahon, who missed most of the 1986 and '87 seasons with shoulder and hamstring injuries and much of '88 with a sprained knee, started 32 games and threw for 33 touchdowns—with 33 interceptions. For the past four years, his cumulative quarterback rating has been a dismal 75.3.
McMahon, who was 35-3 in regular-season starts from late in the 1984 season through '88, was traded by the Bears to the San Diego Chargers before last season for what turned out to be a second-round draft pick (Chicago chose Fresno State linebacker Ron Cox). The Bears were concerned about McMahon's durability, believed he was not playing any better than Mike Tomczak or Jim Harbaugh, and were tired of his impudent attitude.
McMahon started 11 of San Diego's first 12 games, but when the Chargers' record fell to 4-8, they turned the offense over to rookie Billy Joe Tolliver. The cumulative effect of McMahon's mediocre play and his bad act led to San Diego's giving up on him. "The guy was a jerk," one Charger says. "He's just crass." Among other gaucheries, McMahon blew his nose on a reporter when he didn't like the newsman's line of questioning.
McMahon's hallmark used to be clutch performances with time running out, but it's not anymore. The Chargers could have scored the tying or go-ahead points in the last five minutes of eight of the games McMahon started, but the team won only one of them. While old hands like Don Strock, Marc Wilson and Matt Cavanaugh hang around as mentors for young quarterbacks on other clubs, the Chargers didn't want McMahon around as a bad influence on the promising Tolliver. Even coach Dan Henning, who staunchly supported the acquisition of McMahon, wanted to send him packing.
When San Diego couldn't get even a middle-round draft pick for McMahon, it released him in April. One NFL general manager whose interest was piqued by McMahon's availability decided not to sign him. "We're not looking for any disruption around here," he said. "Plus, he's been beat up, and I don't know about his arm strength anymore."
McMahon's agent, Steve Zucker, couldn't find a team that would give McMahon at least a chance to win a starting job. He was a logical match with the Eagles not only because he and Philadelphia coach Buddy Ryan were kindred spirits when Ryan was the Bears' defensive coordinator, but also because the Eagles know that if Cunningham gets hurt, they will need an experienced quarterback to have any hope of reaching the playoffs.
As McMahon fades into the NFL sunset, we can only wonder how great he could have been if....
DIGGING IN FOR DOLLARS
As usual there will be drawn-out contract battles between first-round draft choices and management. But this year a number of veterans are also girding for such fights. Unsigned veterans have a little more ammunition than they've had in the past. The NFL has a new four-year, $3.65 billion TV contract, almost double the value of its last deal. And salaries in baseball and basketball have skyrocketed; the 12 $3-million-a-year-and-up baseball deals in the last year and the continuing escalation of NBA salaries are weighing heavily on the minds of NFL players.
"There's definitely pressure from other sports on football salaries now," agent Marvin Demoff says. "People see what Jose Canseco signed for [$23.5 million for five years]."
Cleveland cornerback Frank Minnifield, who made $600,000 last year, is 30, an age at which the skills of defensive backs usually begin to decline, but he wants $1.2 million in 1990. The Cincinnati Bengals are balking at All-Pro strong safety David Fulcher's demand for $1 million after paying him $350,000 last year. And the Los Angeles Rams are refusing to place linebacker Kevin Greene, who made $225,000 last year, in the $1.2 million stratum of premier linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Duane Bickett, even though Greene might deserve it.
"I've never seen [management] work so hard to keep a system that so obviously doesn't work," says Demoff, Greene's agent. "Greene has played five years at a very high level, and if you check what he's made [about $850,000 total], it's about the same as [Ram running back] Gaston Green's signing bonus [$825,000 in 1988]. You have Tony Mandarich coming in as your highest-paid offensive lineman, Deion Sanders as your highest-paid defensive back and Jeff George making more than Joe Montana. It just doesn't work." Right. And for that reason, more veterans than usual are going to test it.
When the Seattle Seahawks open camp on July 19 in Kirkland, Wash., linebacker Brian Bosworth will be 2,600 miles away, in Biloxi, Miss., filming an action movie, The Brotherhood. Bosworth, who has taken acting lessons for four years, stars as an undercover cop who infiltrates the outlaw biker world of the South. He missed most of last year and may not ever play again because of arthritic conditions in both shoulders, but his $600,000 salary is guaranteed this year. He'll be on the set in Mississippi until late August. And though he's not talking to the press right now, his agent, Gary Wichard, is.
On Bosworth's acting future: "Look at the great action film stars. They're all in their 40's. There's this big void out there, and I think Brian can fill it."
On whether Bosworth is the next Chuck Norris: "No. He's the next Brando."
New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms ended 1989 playing so poorly that coach Bill Parcells said he would begin looking for an eventual replacement when training camp opens on July 23. Simms has annually worked himself silly in the off-season—four hours a day, four days a week under Giants strength coach Johnny Parker. "Now, the guy has just gone to a different level [of training]," Parker says. "He doesn't say anything, but he's aware people are writing him off." Simms, who will turn 35 in November, also has begun using the newest and strangest NFL conditioning technique: Several Giants have hired former kick-boxing champion Steve Valencia out of Bufano's Gym, in Jersey City, to help train them to be quicker and more flexible....
Best vacation of the off-season: Joe and Jennifer Montana, in Montana....
The San Francisco 49er offensive line shielded Montana so well last year that he was sacked only once in 12 playoff quarters, and the Los Angeles Rams always have a Pro Bowl player or two along their offensive front. But their offensive walls may not loom larger than the others in the NFC West. "I think the Falcons have the best offensive line in the division," says New Orleans Saints defensive assistant coach John Pease. The Atlanta unit: tackles Chris Hinton and Mike Kenn, guards Bill Fralic and Houston Hoover, and center Jamie Dukes. Dukes received the Saints' vote for Pro Bowl center in '89....
Bengal coach Sam Wyche still can't get over what nosetackle Tim Krumrie (remember when his leg shattered early in the 1989 Super Bowl?) did during a recent strength test. "We put 360 pounds on the leg-press machine, and the average by the linemen was 25 to 27 repetitions. I think the high was 40. But Timmy gets on there, and he does it 101 times! He did four times what the average lineman did."
...New Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville's hex on Deion Sanders worked. Glanville says, jokingly, that whenever Sanders, a New York Yankee outfielder and a Falcon cornerback, went up against a different team on the Yankee schedule, Glanville would call the opponent and say, "I've got three words of advice for you on Deion Sanders: split-finger fastball." Sanders, now back in Triple A after batting .126 with the Yankees, is seriously confounded about his future, and the July 26 date to report to Atlanta's training camp is fast approaching. In a recent telephone conversation, Glanville laid it on Sanders pretty thick in an effort to entice him to join the Falcons full-time this month....
Giants general manager George Young recently attended the opening of Lawrence Taylor's new restaurant, L.T.'s, near Giants Stadium, and he noticed that the tuxedoed Taylor wasn't wearing socks. Young pointed this out to Taylor, who laughed and said, "Hey, George, it's my place."
McMahon hit his peak with Chicago in '86 (left), but his season with San Diego was a headache.
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JAMES PEREZ/ALLSPORT USA
Haley (left) gives San Francisco a younger look at left outside backer than Ham lent to Pittsburgh.
FOCUS ON SPORTS
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A TEAM FOR THE AGES
Ten years ago in Pittsburgh, the slogan was, One for the thumb in '81. The Steelers were coming off their fourth Super Bowl title in six years, and defensive tackle Joe Greene appeared on a poster with championship rings on the four fingers of his right hand. His thumb stuck out like a sore, well, thumb. This year, the San Francisco 49ers have four Super Bowl rings but no slogan. What they do have is youth, relatively speaking. The Steelers had great players who put together a terrific run in winning Super Bowls in 1975, '76, '79 and '80. The 49ers needed nine years to win four Super Bowls—in '82, '85, '89 and '90—but they've replaced their talent better than the Steelers did.
In 1980 the average age of the Steeler starters was 29.6, with 12 of 22 starters being 30 or older. Pittsburgh went 9-7 that season and has never made it back to the Super Bowl. In '90 the 49ers most likely to start average 28.0 years, with six of them at least 30. Heading into the July 25 opening of training camp, San Francisco is favored to make it to Super Bowl XXV in Tampa. Here's a comparison of the ages of the Steelers' starters in '80 and the 49ers' prospective starters in '90 (using the age each player turned or will turn during the respective calendar years):