SOUTH BEND, IND., JAN. 5 -- Mouth shut, hood up, shades on, Jim McMahon dodged a dozen autograph seekers here today, proving he can still dance away from a rush.

The hamstring that caused him to miss three straight games is fine, and he's still a ham, too. Doug Flutie's not here to kick around anymore, but the Chicago Bears' starting quarterback flails away, anyway, telling the Chicago Tribune: "I think we've grown a little {since last year's playoff loss to the Redskins}. So we should be higher for this game {Sunday} than we were last year -- or, at least, taller.

"Just say we'll hopefully be head and shoulders above where we were a year ago at that position -- maybe a belly button, too."

McMahon, five inches taller than Flutie and 10 times funnier, created a one-ring circus today. He declined all morning interviews and promised to be available by 4:30 p.m., though he spent an extra hour lifting barbells and showed up closer to 6. Upon arrival, it was lights, camera, action and McMahon squinted even with his shades on.

Truth be known, Jim McMahon can't bear how big he's become and commonly turns down $20,000 to do guest appearances. Toys 'R' Us had him booked for an appearance recently, and a mob of 21,000 (mostly women) appeared. He drove up in a limo, and they rocked it back and forth, as if he were a teen rock music idol like John Bon Jovi or somebody important.

McMahon, perhaps the only punk rocker who doesn't like punk rock, was appalled at the crowd's performance and told agent Steve Zucker: "No more. Never again."

So McMahon apparently will turn down all appearance requests. If you want his act -- and a lot do -- you better watch TV, where he can be seen pushing Taco Bell, Miracle Whip, Honda motorcycles, Adidas, spray guns, Revo sunglasses and good old Coca-Cola.

According to Zucker, who also represents Colts running back Eric Dickerson, McMahon has declined at least 15 movie requests as well as guest appearances on "Miami Vice" and his own weekly entertainment show. Actually, if he hadn't needed shoulder surgery last summer, he might've finally done a motion picture.

The way Zucker tells it, McMahon and Philip Michael Thomas of "Miami Vice" were going to play fighter pilots. The film's producer told a couple real fighter pilots about the plan, and the pilots adored the idea. In fact, they said McMahon was their hero. Whenever they had successful landings onto aircraft carriers (otherwise known as "touch downs"), they'd butt heads, just like McMahon does with his teammates following football touchdowns.

Like it or not, McMahon is a cult hero, and he likes it not.

"It's bad enough to not be able to go to restaurants, but if you put that face on the big {movie} screen, it'd be horrible," Zucker said today. "Actually, he's really considering another one now. They say he has that star quality in him. They like his commercials."

Those 30-second spots are fascinating. His Miracle Whip commercial was filmed in Berkeley, Calif., the day before he had rotator cuff surgery last year. In the commercial, he walks through an empty stadium, saying he can handle not playing in a Super Bowl, but can't handle a sandwich without Miracle Whip. The sandwich he picks up doesn't have any on it, so he starts howling until an equipment man gives him some.

As for Taco Bell, he really eats the stuff and says he has since he was 6 or 7.

"We got a pretty good buck for it," Zucker said, "but we could've gotten more elsewhere. He just loves Taco Bell, and he's not into the money."

This must be true, or he wouldn't turn down the $20,000 so fast. While he was doing the interviewing for his recent autobiography with Bob Verdi of the Chicago Tribune, Zucker called McMahon one night in a frenzy, needing him to replace William (The Refrigerator) Perry as a guest at a cocktail party.

Perry's wife was pregnant at the time, so Perry couldn't attend and Zucker said the people were offering $5,000 for McMahon to just spend an hour. McMahon and Verdi were about to go out for dinner and drinks, and McMahon said no. Zucker called back five minutes later and said the people were offering $10,000 and promised to get him home early. "No," McMahon told Zucker. "All I want tonight is a couple of beers and few laughs."

Zucker called again and said the people were offering $20,000 and would pick him up and take him back in a limo. He'd only have to be there 45 minutes to an hour.

McMahon told Zucker to hold on, turned to his wife and Verdi and said: "I guess for that kind of money, we can delay the hors d'oeuvres." But Verdi said he is convinced McMahon accepted just to make Zucker happy.

The misconception of McMahon is that he's a loud-mouth punk, and he didn't help that image today, spitting on a lovely carpet during his news conference.

The questions were mostly about his hamstring and whether he would roam foolishly out of the passing pocket, like he normally does. He admitted he'd "like to get my wind back," but he also didn't think he'd scramble much against the Redskins.

"Hopefully, the linemen will do their jobs, and I won't have to take off," he said.

More specifically, he said the Redskins' defense has "some holes" and added "We should be able to run the ball. We ran the football on them last year." But he disappointed a few by not saying anything outrageous, like the time former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann said McMahon was a bad role model for America's kids, and McMahon wouldn't answer back about someone "who can't punt a football more than one yard."

(Theismann, you'll remember shanked a punt against the Bears in 1985.)

McMahon says he won't be 100 percent for Sunday's game, but added: "I don't think I've ever been 100 percent."

Even if that's so, in the last 30 games that McMahon has started, the Bears have won 29. This season, McMahon totaled 1,639 yards passing in only six full games.

McMahon has practically been injured since birth. At age 6, he accidentally punctured an eye with a fork while trying to untie his shoelace. Surgery restored his vision to 20/20, but he wears the shades because he's still sensitive to light. Besides that, he had chicken pox, a cracked tailbone and torn knee ligaments as an adolescent; a shoulder separation and knee surgery in college; a hairline fracture of his right hand with the Bears in 1984, a kidney laceration in 1984, a bruised back in 1984; a stiff neck in 1985, shoulder tendinitis in 1985, a bruised tailbone in 1985, a hip flexor injury in 1986 and finally another shoulder separation that led to surgery last winter.

He didn't return until Oct. 25, in the second half of the Bears' game against the Buccaneers in Tampa. The Bears were trailing, 20-0, when McMahon came on, and he rallied them to a 27-26 victory, throwing for two touchdowns and running for one himself.

The next week, he threw for two more touchdowns to erase a 14-point deficit and beat Kansas City, 31-28. The following week he got the Bears close enough for Kevin Butler to kick a 52-yard field goal that beat Green Bay, 26-24.

As for the shoulder, he says: "That's the least of my worries now."

Actually, Zucker says his main worry -- besides the Redskins and his golf game (his wife Nancy says he only gets up early for two things: going to the bathroom and playing golf) -- are the mobs that he attracts. Wearing the shades are a help, though they cover what Nancy thinks are beautiful eyes.

"His eyes? I think they're blue," Zucker said. "Let me check with my secretary . . . Yeah, they're blue, though they could be red. Who knows?"