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On This Date in Sports August 18, 1989: Bears Trade McMahon

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

In a stunning move, the Chicago Bears trade Jim McMahon, who had been their starting quarterback since 1982 to the San Diego Chargers. McMahon’s best season was in 1985 when he made the NFC Pro Bowl as the Bears won Super Bowl XX. However, most of his time in Chicago was marked by injuries as the Bears handed the starting job to Mike Tomzack with Jim Harbaugh serving as the backup.

Jim McMahon was born August 21, 1959, in Jersey City but raised in San Jose and Utah. Playing college football at BYU, McMahon set 70 passing records leading the Cougars high-powered offense. In 1982, he was the fifth overall pick by the Chicago Bears in the NFL Draft, giving the long passing starved Bears a quarterback with a cannon of an arm.

Known for his colorful personality that often-rubbed Coach Mike Ditka the wrong way, Jim McMahon showed great promise in his first season as he was named NFC Rookie of the Year, with 1,501 yards in eight starts during a strike-shortened season. While the Beas continued to base their offense around Walter Payton and the run game, Jim McMahon provided the type of passing game the Bears had lacked for more than two decades, as the Bears steadily improved over the next two years, reaching the NFC Championship Game in 1984. Injuries though prevented the season from being better, as McMahon missed half the season after suffering a kidney laceration.

A year later, the Chicago Bears with a ferocious defense posted a 15-1 record, winning all 11 games played by Jim McMahon, who unlike 1984 was healthy for the playoffs and led the Bears to a victory in Super Bowl XX. The following season would see McMahon miss the playoffs, as a dirty hit by Charles Martin of the Green Bay Packers, led to season-ending shoulder surgery as the Bears quest for a repeat ended in the Divisional Round. Injuries would continue to limit McMahon in 1987 and 1988 as the Bears suffered disappointing playoff losses to the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers.

As training camp started for the Bears in 1989, Mike Ditka stated he was giving Mike Tomczak and Jim Harbaugh a shot to unseat McMahon as the starter under center. After two games, the Bears made their decision and traded “the Funky QB”. The trade was to the San Diego Chargers, who were in town to face the Bears in a preseason game at Soldier Field. In return, the Bears got a conditional draft pick, second or third round based on how McMahon played in San Diego. Jim McMahon played one series for San Diego and received a standing ovation as the Chargers beat the Bears 24-7 a day after the trade.

The Bears with Mike Tomczak at quarterback got off to a great start, winning their first four games. However, they would win just two the rest of the way, losing their last five games to finish with a disappointing record of 6-10. Jim McMahon would not fare any better in San Diego, as the Chargers also went 6-10. The Bears would bounce back in 1990, with Jim Harbaugh at quarterback, while Jim McMahon signed to backup Randall Cunningham with the Philadelphia Eagles.