McMahon burned but not broken

January 10, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Just a burner, Jim McMahon said. A burner, on a subfreezing day, with the wind chill index making it more like subzero. A burner that left McMahon's entire body numb, but couldn't knock him out of the game.

Say hello to the NFL blood-and-guts poster boy of the week. McMahon couldn't help but think of Mike Utley and Dennis Byrd when the New York Giants nearly broke him in two yesterday. He, too, was paralyzed, if only for an instant.

"Scared the hell out of me," he said.

McMahon being McMahon, he returned for the next series. McMahon being McMahon, he got hurt again, returned again and still left Giants Stadium in one piece, vowing to return for his 13th NFL season.

Wild-card weekend in the NFL.

Burner on a cold day.

The Vikings blew a 10-3 lead in their 17-10 loss to the Giants, dropped pass after pass, made nearly every mistake imaginable. But the enduring image was McMahon, lifting his broken body, re-entering the game with five minutes to play.

He couldn't rally Minnesota for the tying score, but afterward Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor paid him the ultimate compliment, calling him, "a gutsy player, a man's man, a real quarterback." LT should know, having survived a few burners himself.

"I was thinking, 'This is the kind of guy who used to play when I first came into the league,' " Taylor said. "I wouldn't expect anything less from him. We weren't going to be able to knock him out. You don't see a lot of guys like that anymore."

Team doctors are thankful for that, but McMahon answers to no one. He's a throwback, all right. He's also 5 yards short of insane. A burner is a shock to the nervous system. McMahon will get neck X-rays, but only now that his season is over.

Heck, just watching the replay was painful. Mike Fox (275 pounds) hit him low, Keith Hamilton (280) hit him high, and McMahon's head went in the general direction of Philadelphia. "I thought those two guys broke his neck," Vikings tackle Tim Irwin said.

Said McMahon: "I got hit from behind, and another guy came from the front and just kind of bent me all the way back. My whole body went numb. It scared the hell out of me. Then, I had the feeling come back in my legs, so I thought it was just a bad burner."

Yet, he was that close to becoming the next Mike Utley, the next Dennis Byrd. "Until I got the feeling back in my legs, it wasn't a good feeling, especially considering what has happened the last couple of years," McMahon said. "But once I got it back, I wasn't worried about it."

Just a burner. On the second play of the third quarter. With the Vikings leading 10-3. Sean Salisbury replaced McMahon, the Vikings punted and the Giants tied the score on Rodney Hampton's 51-yard touchdown run. Back came McMahon.

Alas, the Vikings' third-quarter possessions began on the 14-, 7- and 4-yard lines, and with the wind howling and the crowd roaring, it was inevitable the Giants would seize control. "I don't think it mattered whether Jim was playing or Sean was playing," Vikings coach Dennis Green said.

Jim played, then Sean, then Jim, then Sean, then Jim again. Fox delivered the second knockdown late in the third quarter. "When you've got the shot, you've got to take it," he said. Were the hits clean? "I couldn't tell," McMahon said. "I don't really care."

"They're a tough, tough team -- as tough as you face," Salisbury said. "They don't give you a whole lot of different looks. They line up and hit you in the mouth. Then they line up and hit you in the mouth again."

Salisbury drove the Vikings to the New York 27, but on fourth-and-three, threw behind Steve Jordan. On the next series, his third-and-15 completion to Cris Carter advanced Minnesota to the New York 23, but Carter fumbled the ball away.

McMahon kept bugging Green for another chance, and he got it. The Vikings were 1-4 earlier this season when McMahon was out with an injured left shoulder, then went 4-1 to reach the playoffs after his return. McMahon is 67-29 (.698) lifetime as a starting quarterback. Of course, he wanted back.

But what did it matter?

Didn't he fear another crushing hit?

Didn't he fear the worst?

"A lot of things go through your mind," McMahon said as he left the stadium. "I'm just glad I'm walking out of here."

Wild-card weekend in the NFL.

Burner on a cold day.

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