1985 Bears Coverage: McMahon carries Bears to 33-24 victory

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Every day of the 2015 Chicago Bears season, Chicago Sun-Times Sports will revisit its coverage 30 years ago during the 1985 Bears’ run to a Super Bowl title.

McMahon carries Bears to 33-24 victory

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Sept. 20, 1985

MINNEAPOLIS – Jim McMahon turned Thursday Night Football into a made-for-TV movie last night.

McMahon threw touchdown passes on his first two plays in the Bears’ 33-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Then he slowed down. It took him six plays before he threw for another touchdown.

“Unbelievable,” Walter Payton said. “It was like everybody came in at halftime and got out their rosary beads.”

At that point, McMahon still hadn’t played. Coach Mike Ditka had called it “remote” that McMahon would play at all. Muscle spasms in his upper back had kept him from practicing all week, and an infection in his leg was worse than his back last night.

Steve Fuller started at quarterback. McMahon went off to the end of the bench and watched the Bears fall behind 17-9 with 7:32 to play in the third quarter. Then Ditka found him.

Share Events on The CubeSo that was the script. Kid gets hurt. Vows to play anyway. Throws fit – and maybe some furniture – when fatherly coach benches him for his own safety. Watches team falter. Waits for desperate call.

We need you, Jim. Go on in and save this game.

In 5 minutes and 23 seconds, McMahon threw touchdown passes of 70 yards to Willie Gault and 25 and 43 yards to Dennis McKinnon. He put the Bears ahead 30-17.

Walt Disney couldn’t have done it better. And he would have used a mule or a talking car for his hero.

McMahon grabbed the brass ring and the national television audience with nothing more than his right arm.

“It was incredible,” fullback Matt Suhey said. “The ability to make long plays like that, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Payton called it “almost – but not yet – the best game I’ve been involved in. But it wasn’t just one guy. It was Dennis and Willie making catches, and the offensive line sucking it up and blocking. It’s wonderful that a machine like this can work together and make progress.”

The defense and kicking teams helped, too. The Vikings’ specialties had been kicking teams and turnovers, but the Bears forced five turnovers to the Vikings’ one. The Bears even recovered a punter’s fumble.

The turnovers set up two of Kevin Butler’s four field goals and one touchdown. The last two turned back Viking surges in the fourth quarter, when they never stopped threatening.

“That was an AFC West game,” safety Gary Fencik said.

“The guy who said the NFC Central Division is too boring must be looking for a closet to hide in,” center Jay Hilgenberg said.

For the Bears’ offense, it was a nationally televised coming out party.

“We’re using some of the weapons we have,” Ditka said. “It was exciting. We don’t have to run it down their throats all the time. We can get points fast, too.”

Payton hurting

One weapon the Bears didn’t have was Payton at his best. “He’s really hurting,” Ditka said after Payton ran 15 times for 62 yards.

McMahon completed 8-for-15 for 236 yards, with the second three-touchdown game of his career. Gault’s 146 yards on six catches were a career high. McKinnon had catches, 133 yards. The Bears outgained the Vikings 480 yards to 445.

But Tommy Kramer had his usual outstanding Bear game, outpassing the Bears 436 gross yards to 360.

“The Vikings are for real, no question about it,” Ditka said. “If it hadn’t been for those big plays, we would have had our backs to the wall. We missed too many scoring opportunities.”

The Bears took possession four times in Viking territory before halftime, but they trailed 10-6. On 10 trips past opponents’ 20-yard lines this year, they’ve scored two touchdowns.

Ditka said he wasn’t considering a quarterback change at halftime. He kept stressing, “This is no slight to Steve.”

Fuller didn’t play badly. He completed 13-of-18 passes for 124 yards, with one interception.

But Ditka had watched McMahon warm up before the game, and he said, “He didn’t look like anything was wrong with him.”

“During warmups, I told him I felt ready,” McMahon said. “I stayed in his ear at halftime.”

After the Vikings’ 66-yard touchdown drive to begin the second half, Ditka took McMahon out of his ear and put him into the spotlight.

“I think it kind of surprised everybody when he went in,” Hilgenberg said. “It was kind of a spark. He came in and started cussing at us a little bit. He said – I can’t say all of it, but – `We’re going to go down that field and get six.’”

McMahon’s first pass was a 70-yard touchdown to Gault, who outraced Willie Teal on the left side of the field and caught the ball in front of him at the 30. That made it 17-16, Vikings.

Like the two that followed it, the play was an improvisation of sorts. Gault and McMahon changed assignments because the Bears were blitzing. Payton blocked the blitzer, but McMahon still was clobbered when he threw the ball.

Linebacker Wilber Marshall set up Act II with his first NFL interception, returning it 14 yards to the Viking 25.

McMahon appeared to be in trouble on that play. He rolled out to the left, nearly across the sideline. But McKinnon materialized, running from right to left.

“I got outside and saw Dennis go deep, so I threw it up,” said McMahon, who hit him as he crossed the goal line.

On his next play, McMahon tried for three in a row. Gault shook free for what looked like a 68-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline. But he bobbled the slightly underthrown ball, reaching back to his right.

McKinnon’s fourth

“They were playing us man-to-man,” Ditka said. “We had to go after their corners.”

Five plays later, McMahon hit McKinnon crossing from right to left again, this time in a Viking sandwich. It was McKinnon’s fourth touchdown catch this season and it made the Bears’ lead 30-17.

It was also McKinnon’s fourth touchdown on a play where he was not the primary receiver. “I must be a very lucky man,” he said.

“I don’t know if Jim’s got eyes in the back of his head or what,” Ditka said.

After the Vikings muffed a field goal snap and the Bears missed a field goal, the Vikings drew within six points. Anthony Carter caught Kramer’s 57-yard touchdown pass with 9:19 to play.

McMahon stormed right back with a 46-yard pass to McKinnon, to the Viking 34, on the next play. He finished the drive with an 18-yard scramble on third-and-20, to set up Butler’s 31-yard field goal, which made it 33-24 with 5:35 to play.

The Vikings had time for two more drives, and the first began with Buster Rhymes’ 55-yard kickoff return to the Bear 43. But it ended two plays later when Ron Rivera forced tight end Steve Jordan’s fumble and Marshall recovered. “A very big play,” Ditka said.

With 46 seconds left and the Vikings on the Bear 29, Otis Wilson intercepted. Kramer would not steal McMahon’s show.

“He’s something,” McKinnon said. “When he’s in, we’re a different ballclub.”

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