My Night With Max
Who didn't love Max McGee?
The Packers' wide receiver made unlikely NFL history by scoring the first Super Bowl touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs despite being what we'll politely call "sleep deprived" that fateful afternoon in January of 1967. McGee was a reliable Bart Starr target and Titletown's social lubricant during the Glory Years (kneel, and genuflect). He wasn't always starting toward the tail end of his pro career, but he was supposedly was a regular in many an area watering hole. There's no bronze bust of McGee in Canton, but he was a Hall of Fame curfew-buster.
We all know the stories, and I thought they needed to be heard again one night when I was asked to host a black-tie Variety Club dinner honoring Max and his wife for their charitable activities for kids, inspired in large part by their son's battles with diabetes. I had the high honor and distinct privilege of introducing Max that night many years ago. I used what was then that new-fangled thing called "the Internet" to find all the old McGee stories, to make sure I had the names and dates right, honing the punch-lines for maximum effect as I piled up the note cards.
My moment at the podium came, and away I went--doing no less than a 15 minute introduction, retelling virtually every Max story ever heard. I hoped he'd be impressed when he came to the mike, gales of applause washing over him and his wife as they accepted the honor. I wanted so badly to do right by this Packers legend--here I was, just another fan, given the rare chance to thank him face-to-face for so many great childhood memories.
I think I made him angry...because he told the crowd that I'd pretty much burned up all of his material. And, I don't really know if he was kidding or not.
The night went on, and a few of my buddies confessed that, yes, the stories I told as part of my introduction would've best been left to Max...and the time-honored show biz lesson of "less-is-more" will forever be part of my social arsenal. I wanted to impress, but seemed to only annoy the object of my affection that night.
The NFL today is full of personalities, but few real characters like Max McGee. Today's pro footballers are, in many cases, contrived (can you say "Ocho Cinco"?) or brash headline machines (T.O.). They grandstand, end zone dance, and try way too hard to stick out from the crowd. Max was real: a down home man who the average fan could relate to. He scored touchdowns, and handed the ball to the ref. There's no photo evidence of a McGee T-D dance--no leap into the stands. His bar room proclivities shouldn't drown out his many gridiron accomplishments--he was a truly clutch receiver, a pretty fair punter, and from all accounts a Class A teammate.
Max was an astute businessman who used his football afterlife to accrue a huge fortune, one margarita at a time--a good chunk of which he applied to charitable causes. And, he morphed into a beloved Packers radio analyst known for blunt assessments and keen analysis. His phrase, "The only thing the prevent defense does...is prevent you from winning" should be embroidered in pillows in every fan's den.
We'll all miss Max McGee. And, even though I muffed my chance to give him his props that night so very long ago, at least I had the chance to say "thanks", face to face. I'm sure it didn't mean much to him, but it meant the world to me.