Just a little more than 25 years ago, a Packers defensive lineman named Charles Martin made a name for himself for all the wrong reasons.
Martin picked up and slammed Bears quarterback Jim McMahon to the ground in a Nov. 23, 1986, game at Soldier Field, adding more fuel to the fire in a longtime rivalry that became particularly testy under head coaches Forrest Gregg and Mike Ditka.
As egregious as the take down was – it came two to three seconds after McMahon threw the ball – it was made even worse by the hand towel that hung from the waist of Martin's pants. On it was written the numbers 9 (for Jim McMahon), 34 (Walter Payton), 29 (Dennis Gentry), 83 (Willie Gault), and 63 (Jay Hilgenberg).
Was that towel a bounty list?
Charles Martin is flagged and ejected for his cheap shot on Jim McMahon in 1986.
Jonathan Daniel/US Presswire
Others disagree. Like Martin's old teammate Ken Stills. As recently as 2010, Stills continued to deny it, telling ESPNChicago.com that the towel was an indication of "guys we have to stop to win the game," not a hit list.
There has never been any evidence that Martin was paid to take out McMahon.
Nonetheless, actions speak louder than words. And the situation played a part in making the Packers look guilty of premeditation. McMahon had missed three games prior with a slightly torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, and in the days before the game, he told the Associated Press, "I know they have one thing in mind. That's to knock my head off so I can't play in the playoffs."
The Packers, with a record of 2-9, had little to play for besides beating their chief rival. The Bears, at 9-2, were headed for the postseason to defend their Super Bowl title. But it would be without McMahon, who missed the rest of the season after Martin threw him down on his injured shoulder, an incident that would affect him for the rest of his career.
Martin, who by all accounts was a loose cannon, was immediately apologetic. Sporting a canary-yellow suit in the locker room afterward, he tried to justify his actions by saying his takedown of McMahon came after an interception, which made the quarterback free game. But he also admitted to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, in a character-revealing kind of way, "I didn't want to hurt him. I just spaced out."
Martin was even more contrite in the days ahead, though the damage had been done. In addition to being flagged and ejected from the game by referee Jerry Markbreit, he was suspended by commissioner Pete Rozelle for two games without pay. It was the largest suspension handed down in Rozelle's 26 years for a single-game incident. In fact, it was reported that only four other times in the history of the NFL to that point had players been suspended for one game for flagrant personal fouls.
Martin played just four more games for the Packers into the 1987 season. He came to Green Bay in 1984 after spending a year in the USFL. He finished up his career with the Houston Oilers (1987) and the Atlanta Falcons (1988). He died in 2005 at age 45 due to complications from kidney disease.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org