Max McGee: A Packers legend

The colorful Packers Hall of Fame receiver died Saturday after falling from the roof of his house.

The phrase color commentator suited Max McGee perfectly.

For a certain group of longtime Packers Backers, McGee was a superb wide receiver who's best known for what happened before and during Super Bowl I. For another group of fans, McGee is best known for being Jim Irwin's straight-shooting sidekick on the Packers Radio Network.

I fall into the latter group. McGee made a lot of dreary football games a lot more entertaining with his cutting but humorous commentary. If the Packers were stinking up the joint, McGee, with that Southern drawl of his, wouldn't hesitate to say so.

Regardless of how you remember him, McGee's passing on Saturday is sad. McGee fell while clearing leaves from the roof of his Deephaven, Minn., house and died at the age of 75.

Aside from a few notable exceptions, like Ray Nitschke, most of the Glory Years Packers are alive and well. At some point in the not-so-distant future, however, other Lombardi-era Packers will be joining McGee.

But today, we remember Max McGee.

McGee was near the end of his career in 1966. He finished the season with just four catches, with Boyd Dowler supplanting McGee in the lineup and as Bart Starr's go-to receiver.

McGee, who with Paul Hornung was renowned for, umm, enjoying the nightlife, snuck out of the team hotel just after bed check the night before Super Bowl I in Los Angeles.

"I practically ran over him getting out of the room," McGee said.

Figuring he wasn't going to play, he spent the night of Jan. 14, 1967, and the early-morning hours of the 15th enjoying a few drinks and a few ladies at the famous Whiskey-a-Go-Go.

With the sun starting to rise, McGee took a cab back to the team hotel, and slyly snuck back into his room, just in time for the team breakfast.

"I didn't feel like I was letting the team down any, because I knew there wasn't a chance in hell I'd play," he said.

McGee and Hornung — another legend who was past his prime — figured they'd spend the championship game putting the finishing touches on plans for Hornung's wedding, which was slated for the Wednesday after the game.

Fate intervened, however, in the form of Dowler suffering a separated shoulder on the third play of the game.

"McGee! McGee! Get your ass in there," Lombardi yelled.

So there was McGee — hung over, on barely more than a wink of sleep and wearing a reserve's helmet because he couldn't find his or maybe didn't bring it.

And a very good football player was about to become immortal with one of the most famous catches in NFL history. Starr threw the ball behind McGee. McGee reached back with his left hand — he said he was trying to break up an interception — "and the damned ball stuck to the palm of my hand."

He ran it into the end zone for the first touchdown in Super Bowl history, and he'd add another in the third quarter when he was drilled but hung on for a juggling catch.

Seven catches for 138 yards later, a 34-year-old legend was born.

The legend continued in the press box, where McGee — a Packers Hall of Famer — was a 10-time winner of Wisconsin's Sportscaster of the Year, and near the end of his broadcasting career watched the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI. He made millions as a founder of the Chi-Chi's Mexican food chain. He founded the Max McGee National Research Center for Juvenile Diabetes at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in 1999.

He is survived by his wife, Denise, four children and seven grandchildren.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com


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