NEW ORLEANS — If they make it into a movie, they should title it "The Bowery Boy Goes To the Super Bowl." And give the part to Mickey Rourke. Or Leo (Spit) Gorcey.
James Robert McMahon is not your basic Rodney Dogood football hero. Not your spit-and-shine Roger Staubach. No Jack Armstrong, he. Gentleman Jim, he'll never make.
This Jim either has, or is, a pain in the butt. Choose one.
If you don't think so, just ask a certain TV announcer down here in the land of dreams where you'll never know how nice it seems.
Buddy Diliberto wishes he had never heard of Jim McMahon.
Jim McMahon owns Super Bowl XX in fee simple today, thanks largely to his character, which seems part pool hall hustler, part drugstore cowboy and all wise guy.
To call him brash is like calling the Johnstown Flood a leak, or the Titanic a collision. James has the personality of a motorcycle gang.
First of all, there's that punk rock hair-do. Then, there's his kind of buggy eyes. The pug nose. The chewing gum. The mouthing off.
You want to put him over your knee. He reminds you of the kind of kid who's always tying tin cans to dogs' tails. In the movie, his mother would always be lighting candles for him.
He comes from the wide-open spaces of Utah but he's got a lot of city boy in him. A tenement kid. He's flippant, cocky, contemptuous--and those are his good points.
But he also has this kind of mischievous appeal. There's a lot of little boy in Jim McMahon. At times, he seems right out of "Our Gang" comedies. Mickey (Himself) McGuire.
And he also is one hell of a football player. He thinks he's a tough guy. He isn't.
The Raiders almost macerated his kidneys.
Other teams have bent him almost double.
Denver broke his hand and bruised his back.
He limped all over the place at the practice field down here last week and spends his nights getting needles shot up his rear.
He shows up at every interview in these smoked glasses with a ribbon tied on the back, making him look like a Mafia don being interrogated in a gangland slaying. His answers run heavily to the sarcastic.
He alienated several dozen of the flower of American journalism last week.
But that's nothing. His own coach is not exactly his biggest fan.
There have been times in their relationship when they weren't even speaking. McMahon thinks the coach isn't all that smart, and the coach knows McMahon isn't.
Super Bowls, like other institutions, tend to become the lengthened shadows of one man, and Super XX began to take on the outlines of Jim (Himself) McMahon this week when an incautious telecaster got hold of a delicious rumor that quarterback McMahon, throwing into coverage, had delivered himself of the opinion that New Orleans was something less than a convent town, that the women, in fact, were all--well, for hire--and the men were all--well, easily fooled.
Now, Jim McMahon didn't say these things. He's brash but not stupid.
But the point is, these sounded to the unwary newscaster like the kind of things Jim McMahon might say. I mean, you would know right away that Walter Payton didn't say them. Or Mike Ditka. A placekicker wouldn't say them. Or The Refrigerator.
But our Jim's reputation for hip-shooting was so ingrained that the newscaster committed one of the cardinal no-nos of journalism--rushed to air with an unverified report.
The word sluts is not the kind of alphabetical progression that goes trippingly past the ear, and the station management quickly realized this when they heard them going out over their call letters.
They checked with the radio station in Chicago over which Master McMahon was supposed to have made the damning indictment of the Creole ladies with their flashing eyes.
No such phrases had ever been aired over that station. No such interview had ever taken place. Visions of Jim McMahon owning their station began to dance in the broadcasters' heads. Their retraction was major league, not to say abject, a granddaddy of all retractions.
A newsman could only admire it for its sweep and grovelly grandeur.
The beleaguered newsman who delivered it had ashes from hair to collar. "I sincerely apologize to Jim McMahon . . . the NFL . . . Chicago radio station WLS and the people of New Orleans for the problems caused by these unverified statements," he whimpered.
"I wish Jim McMahon and the Bears well in the Super Bowl Sunday and hope the remainder of the week is devoted to preparations for the game without distractions caused by my comments last night."
The poor fellow reminded you of a guy pushing a peanut with his nose down Poydras Avenue. The station dismissed him on indefinite probation and shuddered at the hole they had fallen into:
"The management of WDSU-TV have no basis to believe the remarks attributed to Mr. McMahon were ever made. We sincerely regret the error and are formally apologizing to Mr. McMahon, the Chicago Bears organization, WLS radio in Chicago, the NFL and to the city of New Orleans and its people (for) what led to this regrettable incident."