1985 Bears Coverage: McMahon’s ad lib earns Ditka praise

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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’s ad lib earns Ditka praise

Kevin Lamb

Originally published Jan. 13, 1986

No big deal, Jim McMahon said. “The coach sent in a draw play. I didn’t agree with it, so I changed it.” Happens all the time.

When McMahon got to the sideline, Bear coach Mike Ditka gave his impudent young quarterback an earful of praise. McMahon’s ad lib had resulted in a 22-yard touchdown pass to Willie Gault. It gave the Bears a 17-0 lead in their 24-0 victory over the Rams yesterday for the NFC championship.

“Biggest play of the game,” McMahon said.

“I don’t believe what I call is infallible,” Ditka said. “Sometimes you’ve got to risk something to get something. Jim was a little more willing to go for it than I was.”

Ditka knew what McMahon had done as soon as the play began. He liked it, too. He had called the same sprint-out pass two plays earlier, when it gained 13 yards to Walter Payton on fourth-and-six.

“Our defense was playing so well, it was no decision at all to go for it,” Ditka said.

The question was how to go for it. The sprint-out play took McMahon outside the Ram rush, which sacked him three times. It also took advantage of the Rams’ two sideline zones, sending Payton between them.

“The wide receivers took the cornerbacks deep,” Payton said. “Nobody was on me.”

The Bears have learned to expect the outrageous from McMahon. More than half his touchdown passes this year deviated from the called play. This was the conference championship game he missed last year because of injury.

“He was a nut out there,” Payton said. “He did everything but take his clothes off.”

“Vintage McMahon,” tackle Keith Van Horne said. “Cussing and threatening us. We deserved it a lot of times. But we played well enough to win.”

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