Jim McMahon, the brash quarterback and Ziggy Ansah, the humble defensive end

This blog post was written by BYU Cougars guest blogger Ken Driggs

Jim McMahon, BYU and NFL QB was drafted at No. 5 in 1982

Jim McMahon, BYU and NFL QB was drafted at No. 5 in 1982

Roy High School’s outstanding quarterback Jim McMahon wanted to go to Notre Dame, the ultimate name in Catholic football teams, but settled for BYU. He was uncomfortable with the behavior restrictions in the BYU environment, but his football performances were legendary and record-setting. He didn’t fit the mold of the classic Cougar athlete. He was brash, irreverent, cocky, outlandish, blunt and salty.

BYU fans didn’t seem to mind. What they saw was a winner on the field. His football exploits were legendary, and in the early days of BYU ascendancy, he was a prime minister of performance. His feats on the field netted him the highest draft ranking in BYU football history, the fifth player taken in the first round of the 1982 NFL draft.

Fast-forward 31 years. A lot has changed in the world, the LDS Church and BYU. Who could have predicted that the next time a BYU football player was drafted by an NFL team with the fifth pick in the first round, it would be a one-year starter, a humble, black, Mormon defensive end from Ghana, Ezekial “Ziggy” Ansah?

Ziggy Ansah was drafted No. 5 overall by the Detroit Lions

Ziggy Ansah was drafted No. 5 overall by the Detroit Lions

His personality and style couldn’t be more different from the antics that pervaded the McMahon era, and even became more pronounced during his Chicago Bears career and Super Bowl victory. Ziggy is humble, engaging, understated, obedient, quietly cheerful and only becomes a terror when the whistle sounds to start the football game. The Detroit Lions wisely saw something very deep and meaningful about a young man who progressed so far in such a short period of time.

Like McMahon, Ansah’s NFL career is likely to bring great joy to BYU fans, like a thirst-quenching soda, but I predict that Ansah’s will go down with a little less carbonation and a better aftertaste.

Ken Driggs of Mesa, Ariz., is a BYU graduate and served as Cosmo in the 1960s. Contact him at kkdriggs@gmail.com.


    • Rafael Prado

      Jim McMahon won’t be inducted into the BYU Sports Hall of Fame unless the school changes its long standing policy of only inducting graduates.Also, there might be some hesitation on the part of BYU to change the rules on his behalf because he didn’t behave himself as a student and leave without bad mouthing the school.

    • IQ92

      I really like Jim, but attending BYU was somewhat of a dis-service both to BYU and himself. It would have been much more fun to watch his personality at a school like Florida, Wisc., or Texas—were victories trump even religion.

  1. Altitude

    Having character and being a character are vastly different. Ansah has character as have many other BYU athletes to play in the NFL: Gifford Nielson, Steve Young, Chad Lewis, Brian Kehl, et al. Let’s say McMahon was a great QB and leave it at that.

    • Sam the Publican

      Is the world flat? Do pigs fly? Was Bill Clinton faithful to Hillary? As a BYU fan, do I wish McMahon hadn’t gone to BYU? These questions all have something in common with the question in your post. I’ll let you figure that out.

  2. idablu

    BYU has NEVER had a better college QB than Jim McMahon. In my opinion he was the best, hands down. But he wasn’t one to abide by the Honor Code. He never trashed Lavell Edwards but he wasn’t too kind to BYU. If the only thing keeping him from BYU Hall of Fame status is lack of graduating, then I think maybe that requirement ought to be dropped. I don’t think BYU could disallow him based on his behavior while attending BYU. That would mean having to admit that BYU officials purposely turned their heads away from his antics.

    • Jonathan

      Jim McMahon was obviously one of the best athletes to ever play for BYU. Based on his football performance, he should be in the BYU Hall of Fame. However, I think it is completely legitimate to have graduating from the school be a requirement to becoming inducted into a school’s hall of fame. Kind of puts the “student” emphasis in “student athlete.” I am not in favor of the policy being changed or an exception being made for McMahon. What does that say to the athletes that have come back to get their degree so that they could be inducted into the hall of fame (there have been some)? McMahon has the opportunity to finish up his degree (either coming back or online), but has publicly said he wouldn’t be able to do it because he wouldn’t be able to pass the courses without somebody else doing the classwork. Personally, I would love to see him get his degree and be inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame.

  3. Nebraska

    @ Milt.
    I don’t know how fully McMahon followed the honor code when he was at BYU. That is between McMahon, God, and the BYU Administration at that time. I don’t think BYU President at that time, Jeffrey Holland, would have tolerated honor code violations much more than BYU would today. It always seemed to me that McMahon liked having the brash reputation, yet, probably followed the honor code more closely than most people would think. Oh, and I never have seen a more competitive, determined football player at BYU (and perhaps anywhere) than Jim McMahon. Would that I could be just as determined in other areas of my life as Jim McMahon was on the football field.

  4. Brucer

    I believe Jim McMahon, as he said in the interview Erique posted, did a lot of things in private that he knew would get him kicked out if done in public.

    • Ralph

      I am LDS, but not a fan of BYU or Jim McMahon. I played football with McMahon in high school, when he returned to the locker room at Roy High, I heard things directly from his mouth that indicated honor code violations from his earliest days at BYU. Having said that, I have recently become a huge fan of Ziggy Ansah!!!

  5. Rational

    I have no problem with BYU’s graduation requirement for their HOF, and I have no problem with them waving it for their greatest player ever, who now has a disability that makes meeting the graduation requirement impossible. McMahon led BYU to their first bowl win, was their first Super Bowl winning QB, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the hits he took at BYU didn’t lead to his current brain damage. Seems like he’s earned the honor.

    As to whether he did or didn’t live the honor code, the time to enforce that is long gone. He who isn’t without sin, get over yourself. The only “aftertaste” I experience with respect to McMahon is the bitter judgement that goes on and on and on.

  6. Cougar Passion

    It’s fairly well-known–although clearly not well-known enough–that it was a two-way street with the McMahon/Honor Code issue. Yes, BYU benefited from McMahon, so a great many people think they let him stay because of his success. The other side of the coin, however, is that Coach Edwards knew McMahon’s professional aspirations would be derailed if he were kicked out of BYU, which was actually a very strong possibility given the sentiment of some who knew of his antics. Coach Edwards worked out the deal that allowed McMahon to finish his eligibility, after which the school said he must then follow the rules or leave. We know which one he chose.

  7. Sandyclaws

    Jim McMahon the best QB ever at BYU? Don’t think so. In my book that honor goes to Ty Detmer, followed closely by Steve Young. If Steve Young hadn’t been drafted #1 by the USFL in the 1984 draft, he would very likely have been the #1 draft choice in the NFL. But if we’re talking about what they did in college, it’s Detmer #1, Young #2 and McMahon #3.

  8. Bob Williams

    I find it more than interesting that McMahon always bragged about how tough he is and would head but his linemen all the time; sometimes without a helmet. But now he is blaming the NFL for brain injury problems.

  9. Sam the Publican

    McMahon was not a great fit at BYU as far as the University itself goes. He was a great fit for the football team and rightfully deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) BYU quarterbacks, which is saying something. However, I don’t think a rule should be changed just to put him in the BYU HOF. If he cared about being in the BYU HOF, he would finish his degree.

    Ziggy, on the other hand, was both a great fit for BYU the University and the BYU football team. Depending on how he does in the NFL (I think he will do really well but with his lack of experience he is a bit of a risk admittedly), I think he should be a shoo-in for BYU HOF whenever he is officially eligible.

  10. Tanner Plummer

    Personally, McMahon reminded me of Tony Stark. He’s a little selfish but in his own way he really cares about other people. Hope Ziggy does well in the NFL!

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