- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New coach Vince Lombardi during his first meeting with the Green Bay Packers in 1959: “Men, this is a football.”

Veteran receiver Max McGee: “Coach, could you go a little slower?”

The story likely is apocryphal; few players dared bounce one-liners off rock-rumped St. Vincent. Then again, Max McGee was one who very well might have.

McGee was a high-liver who loved wine, women and song, as well as a superb football player who contributed mightily to the legendary Packers teams that won five NFL titles in the 1960s. And very unexpectedly, he became the first Super Bowl hero.

When McGee died at 75 in a fall from his roof Oct. 20 in Deephaven, Minn., the stories came flooding back of how he struck a memorable blow against clean living Jan. 15, 1967, in Los Angeles.

“I just lost my best friend,” former teammate Paul Hornung mourned. “He shouldn’t have been on the roof [cleaning leaves from the gutters]. His wife was away from home. She’d warned him not to go up there. He knew better.”

Yes, but McGee always liked taking chances. He took a big one that January in Los Angeles. when he risked Lombardi’s terrible wrath by sneaking out of his hotel room near midnight and partying hard until dawn — a few hours before the Packers played the Kansas City Chiefs in what came to be known as Super Bowl I.

Even Hornung, another notorious playboy, stayed put (though the following morning he begged McGee to provide a play-by-play of his adventures).

At 34, Max was about through after years as a star receiver. His role was as backup to the talented Boyd Dowler, which meant Max figured to play little or not at all.

You only can imagine what McGee did during his night on the town, but presumably it did not involve milkshakes and polite conversation. According to one account, he bid farewell to three stewardesses by saying, “Ladies, it’s been a festival as always. You are all too beautiful for words. I only hope that I more than made up for Paul not being here.”

Replied one of the stews: “Oh Max, you were wonderful!”

Yes, well …

Returning to his hotel lobby in time to greet his awakening teammates, McGee hid behind pillars and potted plants trying to avoid Lombardi. When the Packers trotted out for pregame warmups, Max left his helmet in the locker room — presumably to ease his aching head — and didn’t bother to stretch. What the heck, he wasn’t going to need it when combat started.

Fairy tales being what they are, you could have guessed what happened next. On the third play of the game, Dowler suffered a separated shoulder, and Lombardi yowled, “McGee, get your [hindquarters] in there!”

Momentary panic ensued in Max’s cobwebby brain: Where’s my helmet? Yikes, it’s still in the locker room! So he grabbed a teammate’s and dashed, more or less, into the huddle.

A couple of minutes later, McGee scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl history, thus becoming an instant trivia answer. Bart Starr, normally a pinpoint passer, threw the ball short, but McGee reached behind his back to make a spectacular grab with his right hand for a 37-yard score.

Unsurprisingly, Max turned the startling play into a joke.

“You pay a quarterback $100,000 a year, you expect him to throw the ball a little better to a $25,000 end,” he said after the game. “I thought the ball was going to be intercepted. I was trying to knock it down, and it stuck to my hand.”

Nor was McGee finished, in more ways than one. His second touchdown, this one 13 yards, was another dandy. McGee juggled the ball after being hit hard while making the catch but clutched it to his chest in the end zone. All told, Max snared seven tosses for 138 yards, making one crucial grab after another as the proud Packers romped to a 35-10 victory.

So much for rectitude.

In the end, though, Starr won the Corvette awarded to the game’s MVP. Whereupon Hornung, who sat out because of an injury, told his pal Max, “They should have given two, my man.”

How did McGee celebrate afterward? He just might have curled up and gone to sleep somewhere.

Again in 1967, McGee played little behind Dowler during the regular season. And again he came up big in the second Super Bowl with a 35-yard reception that set up a touchdown in the Packers’ 33-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders as the Lombardi era ended with one more championship.

After that, there was nothing left for McGee to do in football, so he retired. Later he became a partner in developing the Chi-Chi’s restaurant chain, spent many years as a popular analyst on Packers broadcasts and founded, along with wife Denise, the Max McGee National Research Center for Juvenile Diabetes at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

After his great showing in SB I, McGee often was asked whether it had been his best day ever.

“Oh, I’ve had better days,” he replied, “but I never timed one better.”

And that was no joke at all.

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