Packers vs. Chiefs: Memories of Super Bowl I and Max McGee

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Packers vs. Chiefs: Memories of Super Bowl I and Max McGee

As the 13-0 Green Bay Packers prepare to take on the 5-8 Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, my thoughts have raced back to the very first Super Bowl, which included both these teams.

Jan. 15, 1967 was the date. The Packers of the NFL were taking on the Chiefs of the AFL for the very first time. The event ended up becoming something called the Super Bowl, although most called it the AFL-NFL World Championship Game then.

Now, a lot of people ask how the Super Bowl came upon its name. It actually came from Lamar Hunt's daughter. Hunt was the then owner of the Chiefs, and like most kids of that era, Hunt's daughter had a super ball. 

The super ball was a rubber ball (with something super inside it) that could bounce way up into the air from the sidewalk and over houses. I had one myself. Anyway, that is how the championship game between the NFL and the AFL got its name.

The game itself occurred after the merger of the two leagues in June of 1966, after the AFL had been trying to sign big name stars out of the NFL. That and bidding against each other to sign talent out of the college ranks after their respective drafts.

To illustrate the magnitude of the game, the game was televised by two networks. Both CBS and NBC covered the game. CBS was the NFL's network, while NBC was the AFL's network.  Between the two networks, there were over 51 million viewers that day.

Super Bowl I was also the only game in Super Bowl history that was not a sellout. The game was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the attendance was only 61,946 in a stadium that could seat close to 93,000 people in it. Why? 

For one thing, Los Angeles wasn't awarded the game until six weeks before the event, nor was a date set until then.

Bart Starr ended up winning the MVP award in Super Bowl I (and in Super Bowl II as well), but in the first Super Bowl, who can forget the performance of Max McGee. 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 seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. That's only a 19.7 reception average folks 

McGee didn't get the game's MVP award, it went to Starr, but McGee was the "star" that day.  McGee 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!

Starr was 16-23 for 250 yards and also threw two TD passes (both to McGee) in winning the game MVP honors in the 35-10 win. Starr was especially deadly on third down, as the Packers were able to convert 11-of-15 chances on that crucial down. 

On the other hand, the Chiefs were just 3-of-14 on third down. It took awhile for the Green Bay defense to figure out the Kansas City offense, but they dominated the Chiefs in the second half and held them scoreless. The Packers sacked Len Dawson of the Chiefs six times, led by Willie Davis, who had two sacks.

The key play of the game happened early in the second half when a fluttering pass by Dawson was intercepted by Willie Wood, which the All-Pro safety returned 50 yards to set up an Elijah Pitts TD run. The Packers never looked back as they took a 21-10 lead at that point.

That Green Bay team had a lot of characters on it, and McGee was definitely one of them.

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. McGee also scored 306 points on 51 touchdowns. But then McGee always had a gift to be athletic.

In his book Instant Replay, Jerry Kramer talks about that, “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 ping pong to pool—and he’ll excel at it.”

Besides being a former Packer great, McGee was also an announcer on the Packer radio network from 1979-1998. His words helped another generation of Packer fans learn about football. 

A number of people that were on the Green Bay sideline that sunny afternoon in Los Angeles have since passed on. First it was Vince Lombardi himself in 1970 to colon cancer. Players have passed on as well. Players like Henry Jordan, Lionel Aldridge, Lee Roy Caffey, Elijah Pitts, Ron Kostelnik, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Joe Crutcher, Bob Jeter and more recently Gale Gillingham and Don Chandler. 

McGee also passed away fours years ago, as he accidentally  fell off his roof while blowing off leaves and tragically died at age 75.

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 was in real life, I am sure that Max is the life of that particular party.

 

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