Bears Trade McMahon to Chargers : Chicago Gets Conditional Draft Pick, End to Ditka Feud

Times Staff Writer

Outrageous Fortune. No, not the movie. The trade.

It happened Friday when the Chicago Bears shipped injury-prone quarterback Jim McMahon to the San Diego Chargers for a 1990 draft choice that will be a first-, second- or third-rounder depending on how the Chargers do when McMahon plays this year.

The deal was completed Thursday night after two days of hard negotiations. Then the Chargers spent all day Friday crowing about their good fortune in acquiring McMahon, who is known for his outrageous behavior.

McMahon, you may remember, is the guy who wears sunglasses because he stuck a fork in his eye when he was a child. He’s the guy who wears his hair the way Cher wears clothes. He’s the guy who criticized his parents in his best-selling autobiography.

He’s also the guy who mooned a helicopter in New Orleans the week before he led the Bears to a 46-10 victory over New England in Super Bowl XX.


McMahon has always been theatrical. Some of his best theater has occurred on the football field. And that’s the act the Chargers bought Friday.

To make room for McMahon, who turns 30 Monday, they waived quarterback Mark Malone. Without saying it in so many words, they also made it clear that rookie Billy Joe Tolliver will not be a starter in the NFL this year.

McMahon almost certainly will not play tonight against the Bears at Soldier Field in the second exhibition game for both teams. But Charger Coach Dan Henning said he might play Wednesday night when the Chargers face the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park.

“It was just a matter of time before somebody was in here,” Tolliver said.

Ted Tollner, the Chargers’ quarterback coach, worked with McMahon as Brigham Young’s offensive coordinator in 1981. And, Tollner said, “if he (McMahon) produces the way I think, he’ll be ready for the Raider game.”

The Raider game will be played Sept. 10 in the Coliseum and will be the season opener for both teams.

The Bears wouldn’t say so publicly, but the consensus among observers close to the team is that they believe they are well rid of McMahon, his erratic personality and his history of injuries. Bear Coach Mike Ditka clashed frequently with McMahon. Bear defensive end Dan Hampton publicly questioned McMahon’s durability and toughness last year. And Bear President Michael McCaskey, also a target in McMahon’s book, never liked McMahon’s style.


As late as Wednesday, Charger owner Alex Spanos said: “From a personality standpoint, it doesn’t seem like he gets along with people.”

That line changed abruptly after the trade.

“Listen,” Spanos said, “I think this trade is probably as exciting as anything that has happened in the last five years. The kid’s a winner. We’re excited to have him.”

The personality?

“Hey,” Spanos said. “All I want to do is see him win.”

Said Henning: “His personality is such that he says what he thinks. Other people think the same things but don’t say them. Everybody’s different. We’re looking for football players, not conformists.”

“To me,” said Steve Ortmayer, the Chargers’ director of football operations, “his personality is 35-3.” That’s his record as a starter over the past five years.

McMahon’s career record as a starter is 49-17 (46-15 in regular-season games). But injuries have prevented him from starting all 16 games in any one season during his seven years in the league.

McMahon’s strength as a quarterback is clearly not his durability. It’s his skill in reading defenses and convincing the other 10 players in the huddle that he can do what he tells them he will do.


But the Chargers don’t have the kind of offensive line the Bears have to protect McMahon. Bear linemen Jim Covert and Jay Hilgenberg have played in the Pro Bowl. Right tackle Keith Van Horne is a former first-round draft choice.

The Charger line that blocked for Malone last season consisted of four free agents and a fourth-round rookie.

“We’ll give him the best protection we can give him,” Charger right tackle Brett Miller said.

The Bears decided that McMahon was expendable because of the continued improvement of younger quarterbacks Mike Tomczak and Jim Harbaugh, their first-round selection in 1987.

“Jim McMahon is a starting quarterback, and I couldn’t give him that guarantee here,” Ditka said. “It was a tough decision. But I think he’ll be happier in San Diego.”

McMahon said: “The way things were (in Chicago), no, I wasn’t going to be the starter. I think Ditka believes he can win with anybody that gets it done. So now I don’t have to deal with that anymore.”


The Chargers do.

Ortmayer said they have checked McMahon’s physical status with doctors and are convinced he is healthy. He also said they watched McMahon closely in the Bears’ 28-20 victory in Miami Monday night. In that game, McMahon completed four of six passes for 47 yards.

Before the McMahon deal, the Chargers had also been talking to Dallas about acquiring quarterback Steve Pelluer. But the Cowboys reportedly wanted Charger defensive linemen George Hinkle and Karl Wilson and a second-round draft pick. The Chargers were unwilling to pay that price.

McMahon has one year left on his current contract. His base salary for 1989 is $800,000.


YR C-A YDS TD INT 1982 120-210 1501 9 7 1983 175-295 2184 12 13 1984 85-143 1146 8 2 1985 178-313 2392 15 11 1986 77-150 995 5 8 1987 125-210 1639 12 8 1988 114-192 1346 6 7 Ttls 874-1513 11203 67 56 PLAYOFFS 1985 39-66 636 3 0 1987 15-29 197 1 3 1988 16-32 134 0 1 Ttls 70-127 967 4 4


Jim McMahon has had eight major injuries in five seasons. Rich Roberts’ story, Page 14.