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Where Quarterbacks Don't Die

Former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon at least has the efficiency not to launch himself 240,000 miles to the moon as Neil Armstrong did only to say the wrong profound quote when he got there.

So when McMahon last week spit insultingly across the ethernet chasm at the Bears, Bears quarterbacks, Bears fans, and Bears management and owners - plus virtually the entirety of Chicago and Bozo The Clown - at least he didn't have to travel off-planet to send his missive.

Chicago is "where quarterbacks go to die," he told the Fat Mike Chicago Sports podcast show this week. Yes, another reason you just love to hate podcasts.

As for the bodies of dead quarterbacks, you see them everywhere. Their corpses are buried under Michigan Avenue and Bronzeville and Streeterville - and maybe a few in Winnetka and Minooka - and some are left floating in Lake Michigan like marker buoys. The bodies of these deceased Bears pocket gassers and gimpy scramblers are everywhere.

We pause for a podcast yellow news alert for missing quarterbacks. None of that is true.

What he meant to say, of course, is that "Chicago is where quarterbacks go when their career dies." Or maybe "playing for the Bears kills your career," or "The Bears ruin the careers of their quarterbacks." All of those assertions are provable and debate-worthy to some degree.

There is no record of any dead Bears quarterback being carted off Soldier Field in the second quarter.

None of those alternative quotes is as poetic and mellifluous as what McMahon said. His quote is more lyrical because it's not true either figuratively or the real world.

With any luck, we won't have to be exposed to several years of McMahon explaining what he meant to say.

Astronaut Armstrong flew 500,000 miles round-trip o land on the Moon and then say the wrong words on behalf of all humanity. That's a long trip to mess up the script.

Armstrong spent the next 43 years insisting he did not say what we heard him say. So McMahon has a high bar to leap for deep regret.

The 600 million humans who watched on their Earth-plugged televisions mostly thought he said "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," which makes no sense because "man" and "mankind" are essentially the same collective philosophical plurals. NASA insisted later that Armstrong had said, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." That's the one you'd want etched in history.

But both Armstrong and McMahon said what they said. Spin doesn't help. Life is not precise art.

First, as a matter of mortuary science, very few Bears quarterbacks died in Chicago or are buried here as far as we know. A high number would imply quarterbacks really liked Chicago.

Given the team's history of dopiness, why would they?

Chicagoans need their hired help to love being here. And love Chicago while you're at it. But the minions don't, apparently.

If they had loved the city so much they might have stayed around after their careers. They always assert their love for their neighborhoods, city ambiance and Lou Malnati's pizza. Loved those two months of 43-degree weather that Chicagoans amusingly call spring.

Who seeks out Chicago's winters unless they are paid for the torture?

Former Bears q-backs have died in California, Florida, Georgia . . . and a few went back to ancestral homes to croak. Perhaps there are ancient exceptions. But they didn't die here. They often got out as quickly as their airline tickets and Model A's could arrange.

But McMahon's underlying premise is also inaccurate. No quarterback who played for the Bears really had a stellar career to kill before they came here. If they had been any good, their previous employer wouldn't have traded them here.

Mostly, Bears quarterbacks have ended up as mediocre carpenters just as they were upon arrival. The Bears did not elevate their game to stardom, but there wasn't much stardom to their juice. It was kismet. A match of mediocre equals made in heaven.

However, none of them, even McMahon, made the Bears better than the team would have been without them.

Even Mitch Trubisky of recent ignominy was a worker bee college quarterback. Every year's crop produces another half dozen just like him.

Jim Miller was a mediocre losing-record talent at Michigan State, drafted in the sixth round by the Steelers and then kicked around several franchises before six years with the Bears in which he had 36 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. As with most Bears quarterbacks, the franchise did not doom his career. They had precisely the career that mediocre players have. He became at the end who he was at the beginning.

He's a Chicago broadcaster and still alive, as of Tuesday morning.

Jay Cutler is still alive too, in Tennessee. Took a $3 million loss on his Nashville mansion just to get way from his estranged wife. Or maybe she took the loss to get away from him. Either could be true. Or both. In any case, he's not coming back to Chicago to die.

Just as well. Bears fans have had enough of Cutler while he is alive, and he apparently has had enough of Bears fans.

When Cutler passes, his obituary will not begin "Beloved former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler went to meet his lord and savior . . . "

The evidence does not suggest in general that he and the 83 former Bears quarterbacks had much lingering sentimental affection for the city - at least not enough to live here after their careers. Most flee for somewhere permanently warm just as you and most of your neighbors will if retirement cash stretches to Phoenix.

Even the great players of Chicago's past - Grange, Luckman and Lujack - were professionals. Bears players are working for a living, to state the obvious. Workers toil on Alaska oil rigs without intending to retire to Skagway.

The residents of Skagway are not miffed.

Quarterbacks aside, what McMahon seemed to want remembered by his malapropism is simpler than football schematics. He was saying: Not only do the people who run the Bears stink as professionals and as people, but he likes Green Bay's classiness much better. He was saying the franchise stunk when he was part of it, and it stinks now.

Oh, the cynical grievance forced upon long-suffering Bears fans. Bears quarterbacks and their fans always have endured this permanent stasis of unrequited love. Maybe it's mostly love-hate. And it's more hate than love. Or perhaps just derision.

As for McMahon's case, there is little reason he should have been exposed to the podcast.

True, he can make for entertaining bravura. But he's 62 now and damaged in mind and body. He's angry at past insults and likely has a right to be.

But McMahon was diagnosed with early onset dementia at least 10 years ago. He's had a dozen serious football concussions, he still struggles with memory loss, severe headaches and depression. At times, the pressure on his skull becomes overwhelming. He has vision problems and speech difficulties.

He told the Virginian Pilot newspaper in 2017 that he had often contemplated suicide. He should not be trotted out for someone else's ratings.

As of last record in 2018, he had put his $2.5 million home in Scottsdale, Arizona up for sale.

He had no announced plans to revisit Chicago cemeteries when the time comes.

Perhaps, at last, it's time to let Jim McMahon go in peace elsewhere as many others have.

Indeed, only Bernie Masterson (1934 to 1940 and buried in Des Plaines) and Joey Sternaman (played 1922 and buried in Oak Park) defied the trend.

The Bears' first quarterback Pard "Walter Irving" Peace was born in Rhode Island, died in Rhode Island and is buried in Rhode Island.

The destination of choice is California: Rudy Bukich in Del Mar, George Blanda in Alameda, and Ed Brown in San Luis Obispo. (Johnny Lujack, 96, lives in Southern California, apparently impervious to mortality.)

Florida is also a good final stop: Sid Luckman in Aventura and Zeke Bratkowski in Santa Rose Beach.

Some quarterbacks go home after the games end. Jack Concannon was born, died and buried near Boston. Larry Rakestraw, a Georgia kid, died in Suwannee and was buried there. Billy Wade grew up in Nashville, went home after his Bears career, and died there.

The greatest Bear of all and most associated with the team's glorious beginning was Harold "Red" Grange, the "Galloping Ghost" from Illinois. Though a halfback in the single wing days, Grange functioned most as the bedrock of the team's offense. When he died in 1991 in Lake Wales, Florida, his remains were cremated and the ashes given to his widow, Margaret "Muggs" Grange.

She brought the ashes back to Illinois - but not to Chicago or Soldier Field. Many unchallenged rumors suggested she spread the ashes on the field at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. That was as close to Chicago as he wanted to be.

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David Rutter is the former publisher/editor of the Lake County News-Sun, and more importantly, the former author of the Beachwood's late, great "The Week In WTF" column. His most recent piece for us was When We Were Vaccine Guinea Pigs. You can also check him out at his Theeditor50's blog. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on May 13, 2021