Max McGee could make the ‘impossible plays’

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Max McGee is best remembered for his heroics in Super Bowl I when he was in the twilight of his career, but it was his big-play ability when he was at his peak that endeared him to legendary coach Vince Lombardi and secured his standing as one of the best receivers in Packers history.

In three of Lombardi’s first four seasons, McGee led the Packers in receiving – or shared the honor – and was their biggest playmaker in the passing game.

In 1959 and ’60, Lombardi’s first two years, McGee caught more passes than any other player and averaged an impressive 21.8 yards per catch, including a league-best 23.2 yards in 1959. In 1961 and ’62, when the Packers won back-to-back NFL titles, McGee led them both years in receptions and receiving yards.

Having been a halfback for most of his college career, one of McGee’s strengths was his run-after-the-catch capability.

Prior to Lombardi’s arrival, McGee played well as a rookie in 1954 and again in 1958, but lost two seasons in between while serving in the Air Force and struggled to regain his form in 1957. Throughout his career, McGee also was an enigma to his coaches at times. “Max’s only fault is he gets a little careless and drops the easy passes,” Red Cochran, Lombardi’s backfield coach, once said. “He drops those, but catches the hard ones as well as anybody.”

In addition to his contributions on offense, McGee also was a capable punter and filled that role in four of his 12 seasons. In fact, he led the NFL in punting yards in 1954 and 1959.

McGee played a lesser role on Lombardi’s final three championship teams, but when summoned to fill in for an injured Boyd Dowler in Super Bowl I, he responded with seven catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns. His first touchdown covered 37 yards and was the first in Super Bowl history. McGee was 34 years old at the time and had caught only four passes in the regular season.

“Max was my kind of guy,” said Bob Schnelker, who spent 27 years as an NFL assistant and coached the Packers receivers when they won Super Bowls I and II. “Max could do anything. He could make impossible plays. Certain guys, no matter where they are or whom they’re playing with, make sensational plays. It’s just in their nature and Max was one of those guys. He didn’t have the great speed or the great this. He didn’t always do what you told him to do and didn’t give a (darn). Yet when the chips were down, Max could play. Just like that one-handed catch in the Super Bowl. He comes off the bench and plays like he’s all-world. He was a good athlete. He could play anything.”

The Packers selected McGee in the fifth round of the 1954 NFL Draft, projecting him as a flanker and hoping he might be another Elroy Hirsch, who entered pro football as a combination runner-receiver before becoming a fulltime flanker for the Los Angeles Rams in 1951. At Tulane, McGee played mostly halfback on offense and led the team in both rushing and kickoff returns in each of his three seasons. As a senior, McGee also doubled as a defensive back in what was the beginning of the one-platoon era of college football, which lasted from 1953 to 1964.

McGee played up to expectations as a rookie, starting at left end and catching 36 passes for a 17.1 average with nine touchdowns. He entered the Air Force in April 1955 and didn’t report back to the Packers until Sept. 8, 1957. Having missed four preseason games by then, McGee didn’t reclaim his starting job until Gary Knafelc suffered a knee injury in practice following the third game. Under Lombardi, McGee started and played exclusively at left end for six seasons.

Nicknamed “Maxie the Taxi” by his teammates, McGee played in 148 games for the Packers and finished with 345 receptions for 6,346 yards, an 18.4 average. As a punter, he averaged 41.6 yards.

Teaming with play-by-play announcer Jim Irwin, McGee was an analyst on the Packers Radio Network from 1979 to 1998.

Born July 16, 1932, in Saxon City, Nev. Given name William Max McGee. Died Oct. 20, 2007, at age 75.

Max McGee

  • End: 1954, 1957-67
  • Height: 6-3; Weight: 205
  • College: Tulane, 1951-53

HONORS:

  • Pro Bowl Selection (game played since 1950): 1961
  • Packers All-Modern Era Team: 1976

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