Max McGee was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 1954 NFL draft out of Tulane. McGee was like many great players on the Packers of the ’60s who arrived before Vince Lombardi came to Green Bay in 1959.
That was all due to the excellent scouting work done by Jack Vainisi. Besides McGee, Vainisi also drafted players like Dave Hanner, Bill Forester, Jim Ringo, Forrest Gregg, Bob Skoronski, Hank Gremminger, Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, Ron Kramer, John Symank, Dan Currie, Jim Taylor, Ray Nitschke and Jerry Kramer.
Everyone of those players had roles on some or all of the teams that won five NFL championships (including the first two Super Bowls) in seven years under Lombardi.
As you can tell, Vainisi was the talent scout for the Packers from 1950-1960. Sadly, Vainisi died of a heart attack in 1960 at the young age of 33, just prior the championship run of the Vince Lombardi-era Packers.
But McGee and many others were around for all five of the NFL championships. No. 85 had a nice career with the Packers, as he had 345 receptions for 6,346 yards and 51 touchdowns. Four times McGee led the Packers in receptions and once he led them in scoring.
McGee also had an 18.4-yard reception average, which is the second highest per-catch average in team history.
In 1961, McGee was named to play in the Pro Bowl.
McGee also punted for the Packers for a number of years. In his career, McGee punted 256 times for 10,647 yards and had a 41.6 average.
Max was certainly a star receiver for the Packers in the Lombardi era, but through 1965-67, McGee didn’t get a lot of playing time, as the team had acquired Carroll Dale, who was opposite Boyd Dowler at receiver.
When McGee did get playing time, he was clutch. Case in point, the 1966 postseason. Before Super Bowl I, McGee caught a 28-yard TD pass from 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 his roommate Hornung to go with him that night, so McGee went out on his own. Max stayed out late that evening and didn’t return until shortly before 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. Dowler injured his shoulder early in that epic contest and McGee had to go into the game. McGee was startled as he heard 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 seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns, as the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. That adds up to a 19.7 reception average for the game.
Then in Super Bowl II, McGee only caught one pass, but it was for 35 yards, as the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders 33-14.
In his postseason career, McGee only caught 12 passes, but four of those receptions were for touchdowns and he ended up with a 19.4 yards-per-catch average.
I had an opportunity again recently to talk with Jerry Kramer and he shared some memorable stories about McGee.
“Max was really a good athlete,” Kramer said. “He could play tennis. He could play golf. He could play whatever the hell you wanted to play. And he wanted to bet you on it too!”
The four of them would get together to play golf quite often, with Kramer and Chandler going up against McGee and Bratkowski.
Kramer recalls one of those occasions.
“Max loved to mess with people’s minds,” Kramer said. “He would love to see if you would tighten up in clutch situations. If he could make you choke, he got a real kick out of that.
“Anyway, one day he and Zeke are taking on Don and I. On the surface, it was an uneven match, because Max was a good player and Zeke was a very good player. So, we come down to the 18th hole and we were ahead by three shots.
“Max tries to get in our heads as he was teeing off, by saying, ‘Press, press, press, press, press.’ He proceeded to knock the ball out of bounds. I probably got the biggest kick of my life after Max did that after trying to put the pressure on us. But it backfired that day for Max, so Donny and I won $75 from he and Zeke.
“I enjoyed the hell out of that. We didn’t win very often and Max and Zeke won most of the time, but that victory was special.”
Kramer also remembers that McGee was always quick with the quip to relax people, whether in the locker room or out in society.
“One time we were playing the Cleveland Browns in the preseason,” Kramer said. “Coach Lombardi would sometimes get himself in a bit of a bind when he spoke to the team, as he didn’t quite know how to end the speech or close it off.
“So Coach is talking to us before the Cleveland game and says, ‘Lot of people here tonight. Big crowd. You might get a little nervous and might even get a little afraid. Are you afraid? Anybody here afraid?’ And without missing a beat, Max goes, ‘Hell yeah, Coach. I’m afraid. I’m afraid Cleveland won’t show up.’
“That loosened the world up for us and it got Coach off the hook.”
McGee also had the penchant for loosening up people in somber circumstances. That was the case when Kramer, McGee, Fuzzy Thurston and several other Packers went to the funeral of former teammate of Ron Kostelnik in 1993. Kostelnik was just 53 years-old.
“So I’m with Max at Ron’s funeral service,” Kramer said. “There were probably 12 or 15 of us there. It was obviously very melancholy, seeing that Ron had died so young. So go over to Fuzzy’s to have a beer afterwards.
“It’s still a bit awkward to chat under the circumstances. Finally, Max looks at me and says, ‘Kramer, the way I got it figured, you’re next!’
“That quip really loosened things up and we all relaxed a little bit.”
Kramer also remembers what happened when McGee first went into Super Bowl I when Dowler had to leave the game with a shoulder injury.
“I remember that first series very well,” Kramer said. “Max couldn’t find his helmet when Boyd was injured. So Max is looking around for it and couldn’t find it. Finally someone hands him a hat, but it was much too big for him.
“After Max come in, Bart calls a square-out play that Max runs and the pass by Bart hits Max in the helmet, as it went right through his hands. Not a great way to start for Max.
“But Max soon found his helmet, had a big game and the rest they say is history.”
One of the reasons that McGee was such a big play receiver, was his ability to make double or even triple moves on a defender.
Kramer talked about that dynamic.
“Max loved to think on his feet,” Kramer said. “He would see the corner or safety do this or that and he would tell Bart or Zeke. For instance, Max would go inside and make a precise move three or four times to set the guy up and then later fake that same move and go outside.
“Max just loved doing that. He thrived on mental gymnastics.”
While he was still playing with the Packers, McGee and Thurston operated a chain of restaurants for a number of years. And then after his career with the Packers was over, McGee really thrived, as he was one of the co-founders of Mexican restaurant chain Chi-Chi’s.
In addition to that, McGee was also an announcer on the Packer radio network from 1979-1998. His words helped another generation of Packer fans learn about football.
Unfortunately, McGee passed away in 2007, as he accidentally fell off his roof while blowing off leaves and tragically died at age 75.
A number of McGee’s teammates have also passed on. Besides Ron Kostelnik, others who have passed on include Henry Jordan, Lionel Aldridge, Lee Roy Caffey, Elijah Pitts, Travis Williams, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Joe Crutcher, Bob Jeter, Gale Gillingham, Don Chandler and Fuzzy Thurston.
I envision a reunion between these men right now in the spiritual world. I’m sure it’s a festive atmosphere as well, talking about the championships and all the good times. On and off the field. But like he did in real life, I am sure that Max is cracking jokes and keeping everyone loose at that particular party.