PHILADELPHIA -- Otho Davis, the Philadelphia Eagles trainer extraordinaire for 19 seasons, didn't think players came off the college assembly lines any tougher than tight end Keith Krepfle.
"In terms of playing with pain, he's the first guy I'd always think of," Davis said. "I remember one year, he broke his hand and needed three pins put in it to keep it together. He didn't even want the pins. He never missed a day of practice.
"The day he had the pins put in, he said, 'I hope they're in there good, because I'm not going to miss any work.' He didn't, either.
"I thought I'd seen the toughest until No. 9 got here. Krepfle was tough, [quarterback] Ron Jaworski was a tough son of a gun, but they don't come down the pike any tougher than this guy."
The man Davis was referring to, of course, is Jim McMahon, the Eagles' quarterback and walking History of Athletic Injuries in America.
Pick a body part and chances are good that McMahon has had it in the body shop at one stage or another during his magnificent 10-year NFL career.
He could easily have been shut down for more repairs last Sunday in Cleveland, after his right elbow, plagued by tendinitis, reacted negatively to a Friday injection of Novocain. He woke up in pain at 6 a.m. with the elbow swollen to about the size of a baked potato.
Those who saw it reacted one way: "No way."
"People who work regular [office] jobs, who don't use their bodies the way a pro athlete does, would've gotten up, taken a couple aspirins and gone back to bed," Davis said. "A lot of football players, too. They would've gotten up, taken a look at themselves and said, 'Ohhh, man, so much for today.' Jimmy Mac got up, got on the phone and said, 'Let's get to work on it.' "
By now, you probably know the rest of the story. Davis showers, shaves, dresses, jumps into the elevator and begins massaging and rubbing and buffing McMahon's elbow at 7 a.m. . . . He applies his stinky magic goop, or tar-based draining salve, or whatever . . . hours later, the swelling is reduced . . . the elbow is drained . . . another injection . . . a wrap . . . five minutes before the game, McMahon tells head coach Rich Kotite he feels dandy . . . and No. 9 goes out and enjoys the second-best passing day of his career. He threw 43 times for 341 yards and three touchdowns in a memorable 32-30 comeback victory.
"You wonder how he does it, unless you know him," Davis said. "The guy just is an amazing competitor, an amazing person. Pain and discomfort just are not concerns of his. They just aren't. Playing and winning are. I'll tell you one thing, they don't make many like Jimmy Mac anymore. Not today."
Overshadowed, but not overlooked, amid all the ink and videotape devoted to chronicling his physical status, has been the amazing season McMahon is putting together.
In seven games and one quarter of another (Washington), McMahon has completed 141 of 222 passes (63.5 percent) for 1,747 yards and nine touchdowns. If he maintains his current pace (218.4 yards a game), the 32-year-old Macman will post his first 3,000-yard season, with career highs in attempts (318 projected), completions (178) and touchdowns (15) also very possible.
Those statistics -- remember, he missed two full games and three quarters of the Redskins' game, when he was injured -- could send him to his second Pro Bowl. And it is not stretching it to say that if he finishes the season and leads the Eagles to the playoffs, he would rate serious NFC Most Valuable Player support. Considering his impact on this Eagles team, McMahon certainly would be as deserving as Washington quarterback Mark Rypien.
"What he did Sunday," Eagles quarterback coach Zeke Bratkowski said, "was easily as fine a quarterback performance as I've been around."
Bratkowski backed up a Hall of Famer in Green Bay named Bart Starr, remember, and has coached in the NFL for 21 years.
"I've seen people play with broken fingers, sore arms and sore shoulders, but when I saw him at the pregame meal, I didn't think there was any chance he was going to play at all," Bratkowski said. "And then, Sunday afternoon . . . what a character . . . I said, 'How do you feel?' and he says, 'Man, I'm throwing the ball better than I've ever thrown it.'
"I don't know he did it. Obviously, Otho and the trainers did a fantastic job, but . . . I mean, I was a quarterback and . . . that was his throwing elbow!
"But you know what. The thing people don't realize, he works harder, post-practice, on his injuries and his strength and total conditioning far more than anyone I've ever seen. That's why I think he comes back the way he does, because he's in such great shape and his body reacts to the injury and he heels quicker. You can't underestimate the work he puts in to keep himself strong, despite the injuries."