Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Super Bowl Moment: Max McGee shrugs off the hangover to open the book on Super Bowl touchdowns...

In honor of the fact that the Super Bowl is only four cold weeks away, I’m deciding to be bold. Over the next 25 days, I’ll be adding my 25 best Super Bowl moments. Obviously, I can’t include all the great ones, but it’ll be a good mix. So here we go with the first one.

Since it’s ridiculous to actually label certain moments as being measurably better than the next (as it inevitably deteriorates into an argument between various fan bases...or dudes who've had too much Four Loko), I’m just going to go through it chronologically. And since not every Super Bowl produces especially “super” moments, I’ll leave some out (Super Bowl XXXVII…this could mean you).

But without further ado, we’ll start with one of my personal favorites:

Max McGee’s version of ‘the hangover’.

It was Super Bowl I and needless to say, the halftime show wasn’t nearly what it is today. The name itself (the Super Bowl) was the invention of American Football League head Lamar Hunt who’d seen his kids playing with a Super Ball. The light-bulb went off and he came up with name for what’s now the most popular sporting event in America.

At that time though, it was anything but established as a national event. No companies were vying for commercial time, Janet Jackson wasn’t even a year old (and her nipple ring was still decades away).

The inaugural Super Bowl saw the Green Bay Packers (led by the ageless Vince Lombardi) against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was in many ways a clash of old vs. new. The establishment vs. the upstarts.

The AFL had simply not gone away like every other football league that had tried to compete with the older NFL. It had endured. And now it was directly lining up against their rivals in a championship game. Everything seemed to be in place to make the final step towards legitimacy.

But there was one man who the AFL had failed to account for. And frankly, no matter what Vince Lombardi might’ve claimed, he probably hadn’t accounted for this man either. His name was Max McGee and he’d managed only four catches as a backup wide receiver all season.

In the well-oiled machine that was the Packer dynasty, McGee had seen his playing time decline steadily as his age pushed him closer to retirement from football. Though he’d been a Pro Bowler, but was now playing only in blowouts.

McGee was so convinced that he wouldn’t be playing in the all-important Super Bowl that he violated the strict team curfew the night before the game, drinking and carousing in the Hollywood night.

The next morning he managed to get himself to breakfast but made sure to tell the man who’d taken his job, Boyd Dowler, that “I hope you don’t get hurt. I’m not in very good shape.”

Naturally, Dowler separated his shoulder three plays into the game and Lombardi ordered the struggling McGee into the game (his forehead no doubt bumping like Charlie Murphy’s). To cap it all off, McGee hadn’t even brought his helmet out of the locker room and scrambled to grab a reserve linemen’s.

Yet there was more to Mac McGee than met the eye. He might not have been the fastest receiver (and no, NO ONE ever accused him of that), but he had an exceptional ability to catch.

McGee reels it in for Green Bay.
So when Packer quarterback (and Hall of Famer) Bart Starr threw behind McGee on a crossing route, he just did what he’d always done: find a way to make a play.

“I stuck my hand back just to try to break up the interception and the damned ball stuck to the palm of my hand. I had no idea I was trying to catch it” joked McGee. It was a remarkable display of catching and, by his own admission, luck.

(Plus he was doing all this despite the hangover. For anyone who’s engaged in physical activity the night after drinking I’m pretty sure we’d agree this was the greatest accomplishment.)

He proceeded to dash 24 yards for the first touchdown in Super Bowl history, opening the book on scoring on football’s greatest stage in grand fashion. It was indicative of what was coming. The game, like the league itself, was destined for great things. The Packers went onto win the game easily, 35-10.

That it was started on that particular day by that particular man with those circumstances makes it an amazing story. He truly was everything most American athletes aspire to be: a perfect balance of skill, coordination and alcohol.

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