RIP, Max

>> Monday

Those of you not from Wisconsin probably aren't all that familiar with Max McGee, former hard-partying Lombardi-era player and beloved color announcer alongside Jim Irwin (Irwin and McGee were, by the way, the greatest football radio announcing duo in NFL history, no question).

McGee passed away tragically Saturday after suffering a fall from the roof of his home in suburban Minnesota in a sad end to a full life. And man, I mean full. In case you've never heard the story, here (from AOL sports by way of Green Bay, Booze and Broads) is the legend behind one of the greatest performances in Super Bowl history. It's long, but it's worth it.

The morning sun was peeking its nose over the palm trees on Sunset Boulevard and the still-lit neon lights of the Whiskey-a-Go-Go were almost surreal in the early morning glow of Jan. 15, 1967.

Max McGee, wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers and man about town in every town he passed through, was saying good night and/or good morning - it all depended on your point of view - to three full-figured stewardesses, two in the fashion rage of the day - hot pants - and one in a mini-skirt.

"Ladies," McGee went on, "it’s been a festival, as always. You are all too beautiful for words. I only hope that I more than made up for the disappointment of Paul Hornung not being here."

"Oh, Max, you were just WON-derful," said the one in pink leather hot pants.
They hugged him and he squeezed back as three cabs arrived - one to take one of the stews to her day job in the friendly skies, another to take the other two home. McGee slipped $20 bills into the cabbies' hands.

The third cab would take Max McGee back to his day job, momentarily operating out of the Hilton Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, near downtown Los Angeles and a 10-minute ride from the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the pro football team for whom he played, the Green Bay Packers, would meet the Kansas City Chiefs that afternoon for bragging rights in pro football.

Forty-five minutes later, Max McGee was running a screen pattern through the lobby of the Hilton, using potted plants and pillars as his cover to avoid the one man he did not want to see - head coach Vince Lombardi.

Not that Lombardi would have been too shocked. He had caught McGee many times over the years, usually along with his running mate, Paul Hornung. This time - in a reverse shocker of equal proportions - Hornung had decided not to go out on game-day eve.

Los Angeles was Hornung’s favorite city in all the world - it had an endless buffet of females - but he was getting married on the Wednesday after the big game and, well, the famous Golden Boy wanted to save himself.

McGee made it to the elevators, unseen. He hit the eighth-floor button. Home free!

It was going on 8 o’clock and Hornung was stretching out of a sound sleep when McGee entered the room.

"Tell me all about it, Max," Hornung said. "Like I was there, m’man!"

He had not seen McGee since bed check at 11:30 p.m., when Max, fully dressed, was huddled under the covers, waiting for a Packers assistant coach to look inside the room.

As soon as the coach checked in, McGee checked out - and no amount of pleading by McGee could get Hornung to change his mind and join him.

Now, in the morning, they sat on the sides of their beds and McGee told Horning tales of the Sunset Strip and the three high flyers who knew both of them.

Hornung whistled. "We’d better get down to team breakfast," he said. "Get some coffee into you. Buses leave for the stadium in an hour." It was almost 8:30.

McGee, 34, had not slept a wink except in the cab ride back to the hotel, but then he figured he’d get plenty of rest on the bench during the game against the Chiefs.
McGee by the Numbers

From 1958-1964, McGee was one of the NFL’s best wide receivers, but injuries had limited him to 10 catches in 1965 and only four in 1966. Boyd Dowler had become quarterback Bart Starr’s favorite target.
Hornung was three years younger than McGee, but his career had followed a similar trajectory. He led the league in scoring in 1959-1961 - there are those who would tell you that Paul Hornung led the league in scoring every year - and he was, with the Giants’ Frank Gifford, a true Golden Boy of the game, but injuries savaged him and, in 1966, a pinched nerve in his neck had resulted in arm weakness that limited him to 200 rush yards. He had not been the Packers' kicker for years.

No, Hornung and McGee figured to have plenty of time to themselves on the Green Bay bench, plenty of time to check out the action in the always attractive Coliseum crowd, plenty of time to talk about Hornung’s wedding, which was three days away.

The Packers' breakfast room air was thick with tension. The prestige of the old-line NFL was threatened by the AFL’s new kids on the block. To lose to anyone, ever, was unthinkable to Lombardi. To think of losing to these punks was beyond comprehension.

Lombardi liked having Hornung and McGee around because they usually kept the team loose, but, on this morning, Hornung’s wisecracks were minimal and McGee avoided even eye contact lest the Visine had failed to do the job (much less the Listerine and the Folgers).

"My dad had the best spy network in the history of football spy networks," says Vince Lombardi, Jr., then a young law student on the scene. "But I know he never was wise to Max being out on the town all night. Max got away with a big one!"
In the pre-game warm-ups, McGee and Horning gave it a half-effort. "I don’t think I did any stretching," McGee says. "Why would I bother?"

On the third play of the game, as Hornung and McGee literally were planning the Monday night wedding rehearsal dinner, they heard the gravel voice of Lombardi yelling, "McGee, McGee, get your ass in there!"

Dowler had separated a shoulder, and McGee, a man who had anything but football on his brain barely six hours earlier, suddenly was thrust into the primary spotlight of the biggest game of his career - one that later would be christened Super Bowl I.

But when McGee got up to go into the game, he couldn't find his helmet. He didn't remember seeing it the pre-game - and he didn’t worry about it because of course he wasn’t going to play anyway, was he? Now he grabbed a helmet that belonged to a reserve defensive lineman... and, with no potted plants or pillars in his way, got his ass into the game.

A couple minutes later, he scored on a spectacular 37-yard pass from Starr. The normally pinpoint quarterback threw the ball short and behind McGee, who reached behind his body with his right hand to make a one-hand catch.

When McGee came back to the bench, he said to Hornung, "Hey, if Bart throws me the ball, I know I can win the damned car!" Sport magazine was offering a 1967 Corvette to the game’s most valuable player.

McGee was unconscious - literally and figuratively - and he made one crucial catch after another all day, including a 13-yard collaboration with Starr in the third quarter that gave Green Bay a 28-10 advantage,

McGee's second touchdown catch was nearly as amazing as his first. He was hit hard before catching a strike from Starr, which he juggled before securing it against his body.

In the end, the Packers were supreme 35-10, and the man about town had seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Starr, the family man about his house, had nine other completions for 108 additional yards, and no more touchdowns.
The Corvette went to the quarterback.

"They should have given two, m’man," Hornung said to McGee.

The Golden Boy joined in the wild celebration - and he would get a full-share winner’s check of $15,000 - but he never saw any action because of his arm and neck injuries.

Late in the game, Lombardi had come to Hornung and asked him if he wanted to go in so he could say he had played in the first Super Bowl. Hornung had declined.
The former Heisman Trophy winner, Notre Dame All-America, overall No. 1 draft choice, and two-time NFL MVP had too much pride to simply make a cursory appearance.

McGee got a winner’s share, too, and it was a major dividend to his non-marquee income. He laughed about it with the press in the Packers' locker room.
With impish tongue in cheek he said of Starr’s first touchdown pass, "You pay a quarterback a hundred thousand a year, you expect him to throw it a little better to a twenty-five thousand dollar end. I thought the ball was going to be intercepted. I was trying to knock it down... and it stuck to my hand."

"And were you trying to make the second score look tough, too?" asked a man with a notepad.

McGee laughed. "Make it look tough? I’d just got my bell rung. Lucky I held onto it."

"Your best day ever?" someone shouted from the back of the pack.

"I’ve had better days," McGee said. "But I never timed one better."

Rest in peace, Max.


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