Max was one of a kind

Lombardi-era Packer and 'life of the party' will be missed by fans

When I read Sunday morning about the tragic death of former Green Bay Packer wide receiver Max McGee, I was very saddened. McGee accidentally fell off his roof in suburban Minneapolis while blowing off leaves Saturday afternoon. McGee was 75.

The Packers of the 1950s and '60s had a lot of characters on their teams, and McGee was definitely one of them. To add to the irony of McGee's unfortunate death, was that I was planning to go up my roof today because we have a leak. But after the I read the McGee story, I decided that I can do that chore another day.

It's almost surreal that the Packers weren't playing over the weekend as fans I'm sure are mourning the death of McGee. McGee was a very talented receiver with the Packers, plus he actually led the NFL in punting one year. But catching the ball was his occupation and he did it well. Four times McGee led the Packers in receptions and once he led them in scoring. McGee ended his career with 345 receptions for 6,346 yards and an 18.4-yard average, the second highest per-catch average in team history. He remains the 10th-highest scorer with 306 points on 51 touchdowns. But then McGee always had a gift to be athletic.

In his book Instant Replay, Jerry Kramer explains, "Max is an amazing athlete. He's got so much ability it's unbelievable, more than anyone I've ever known, and he's never, in twelve years, used all of his ability. He operated on about a quarter of it, really. One of the reasons that he's such a great clutch performer- he scored two touchdowns in the Super Bowl last year, at age 34, is that he has all of the excess natural ability. When the circumstances call for it, he can reach down and come up with a big play. He's a rare athlete. Show him any sport- from golf to pingpong to pool- and he'll excel at it."

Kramer mentions Super Bowl I when McGee had an incredible game. McGee was a star receiver for the Packers in Lombardi's years, but through 1965-67, McGee didn't get a lot of playing time. When he did, he was clutch. Before Super Bowl I, McGee caught a 28-yard TD pass from Bart Starr that was the difference in the 34-27 1966 NFL championship game win in Dallas against the Cowboys. But Super Bowl I was where he really made his legend.

McGee didn't expect to play so he snuck out after curfew the night before the game. McGee couldn't convince roommate Paul Hornung to go with him that night. McGee stayed out late that evening and didn't return until the team breakfast the next morning. Little did he know what was going to happen that day as he got a one hour cat nap after breakfast. Starting wide receiver Boyd Dowler injured his shoulder and McGee had to go into the game. McGee was startled as he heard Vince Lombardi yell, "McGee! McGee! Get your ass in there."

Max got his behind in there all right. Besides catching the first touchdown pass in Super Bowl history, McGee put up amazing stats as he ended up with 7 receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. That's only a 19.7 reception average! McGee didn't get the game's MVP award, it went to Starr, but McGee was always low key. He was never All-Pro and only went to one Pro Bowl. All he did was produce. Like in Super Bowl II, when he caught only one pass ... for 35 yards!

One time when McGee tried to be low key was retold again in Instant Replay by Kramer. It was the classic story of Lombardi finding out the guys had been sneaking out after curfew. On one occasion he found out Max had snuck out alone and announced, "Max, that will cost you $125. If I catch you again, it'll cost $250." Later on McGee got caught again and Lombardi was really upset. This time he shouted, "Max, that will cost you $250. If you do it again, it will cost you $500." Well, after some time McGee was once again found out when he got a traffic ticket.

This time Lombardi was almost turning purple he was so upset. "MAX!", Vince said. "That's $500." At that point according to Kramer, Lombardi was actually shaking.

"I said that will cost you $500 and if you go out again, it will cost you $1,000." Then according to Kramer, Lombardi then smiled and said, "Max, if you can find anything worth sneaking out for, for $1,000, hell, call me and I'll go with you."

McGee was very close to his teammates as well, especially Hornung. In fact, Hornung was quoted after McGee's death saying, "I just lost my best friend." I'm sure more Packer teammates will give their reflections in the next few days. McGee's passing was just as shocking as Ray Nitschke's death in 1998. Both were loved not only as players, but also ambassadors for the team.

Ray Nitschke, founder of Packer Report, also did many other functions as a former player. McGee, besides being a former Packer great, was also an announcer on the Packer radio network from 1979-1998. His words helped another generation of Packer fans learn about football. McGee also did very well in business as he became a major partner in developing the popular Chi-Chi's chain of Mexican restaurants.

Yes, I was very sad when I heard word of McGee's passing. No one will be more sad than his wife, Denise, and their four children and several grandchildren. But as I reminiscenced about Max's career and all the great stories, I was able to smile. I also know that there is a reunion in heaven right now. Coach Lombardi is there. So is Nitschke. So is Henry Jordan. So is Lee Roy Caffey. So is Elijah Pitts. So is Lionel Aldridge. So is Tommy Joe Crutcher. So is Ron Kostelnik. So is Travis Williams. But like he was in life, I am sure that Max is the life of that party.

Bob Fox is a frequent contributor to E-mail him at

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