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An oral history: Max McGee

Posted Feb 25, 2014

Cliff Christl started gathering oral histories with former Packers and others associated with the team in 2000 and will continue to gather them as Packers historian. Excerpts from those interviews will be periodically posted here.

Max McGee played wide receiver for the Packers – or offensive end as the position was called when he broke into the NFL – in 1954 and then from 1957-’67. He spent the 1955 and ’56 seasons in the Air Force. McGee also doubled as the Packers’ punter early in his career. Here he talks about some of his coaches and teammates before Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959.

On Lisle Blackbourn, his head coach his first two seasons:

McGee: “He was a college coach, and you could tell it. I kind of liked what he did. We weren’t very good in those days. He knew the college game. He had some pretty good assistant coaches he hired out of the pros. I kind of liked his passing attack.”

On Tobin Rote, the Packers’ starting quarterback from 1950-’56 who went on to lead Detroit to the 1957 NFL title and San Diego to the 1963 AFL championship:

McGee: “An old Texas boy like me, he was a hard-headed guy and I liked him. He wanted to run over people. He’d go back to throw and if he couldn’t throw it, he’d duck his head like a fullback. He had a great arm, but sometimes it came end over end. It wasn’t always a spiral. He just ran the team. If he wanted to make a first down, he’d run the ball. He was a good leader. (But) I think he was too hardheaded for Lombardi. He wasn’t as smart as Bart Starr, and I doubt if they would have gotten along too good. Tobin liked to do it his way, and he was good at it. But I think the personalities might have clashed.”

On Billy Howton, the Packers’ star receiver from 1952-’58, who went on to break Don Hutson’s NFL career records for receptions and total yards:

McGee: “He had great hands, great moves. He wasn’t a tough guy. But I’ll tell you, he was a hell of a receiver. Great speed. It was good having him over there. They left me alone. It took Rote a few games to find out I was out there, then he started throwing to me and I had like nine touchdowns as a rookie.”

On Howie Ferguson, the Packers’ starting fullback, for the most part, from 1953-’58 and then cut by Lombardi in 1959:

McGee: “I went to Tulane, but I’m a Texas boy. But I knew about the Cajuns down there. Talk about tough, he was tough. He was a heck of a fullback. He liked running over people. He’d like to get up and run. In those days, you could get up and run again. They had to pin you down. He was tough. He was a different animal. He just liked to hit people and run over people. And if you tackled him, he’d get up and run again. Fergie was really hardheaded, but Vince probably could have handled him. He handled (Jim) Taylor and Taylor was another Cajun from down there around Baton Rouge.”

On old City Stadium, the Packers’ home field from 1925-’56:

McGee: “You know, my home stadium (at Tulane) was the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans that seated 80,000 people. Here I’m a professional playing at a stadium that looked like a high school stadium, which it was. But in those days, what the hell was the difference?”

On Babe Parilli, drafted No. 1 by the Packers in 1952 and an alternate or backup quarterback in 1952-’53 and ’57-’58 and then cut by Lombardi in 1959:

McGee: “I loved Babe. He threw the ball so gosh darn hard, it almost ripped your arm off. He had a fantastic arm. But for some reason – I played against him in college; he was at Kentucky when I was at Tulane – he kind of threw too many up for grabs. He didn’t have that touch. But he was fun to play with.”

On Dick Deschaine, the Packers’ punter from 1955-’57:

McGee: “What a punter he was. He had a great leg, but he wasn’t real fast. He had a few blocked. But he could just drill the ball. He was a better punter than I was. But when I came back, they could only keep x amount of people and they couldn’t keep a specialist. So I got the punting job and they let him go. But Dick could kick the ball so high. He had a powerful leg.”

On Scooter McLean, the Packers’ head coach in 1958:

McGee: “That was the disaster of the world. I loved Scooter. Everybody loved him, and he loved everybody and that don’t work in football. Nobody was afraid of anybody. We just went out and there wasn’t any discipline. They brought in Lombardi to follow him and you talk about a transition: To go from Scooter who didn’t have any control of the guys to Lombardi who had total control. Scooter was not a disciplinarian at all. He was an ex-player and an assistant coach there for quite a few years. He just wasn’t tough enough to get people’s attention. He used to get in my poker game. And I’d have to loan him money when he got beat.”

On Nate Borden driving McGee’s car into a downtown Green Bay furniture store at 12:15 a.m. on a Sunday during training camp in 1958:

McGee: “We were down at a bar in Green Bay. We were all at the bar and had to make 11 o’clock curfew. I met some young lady and she was going to give me a ride back. So I said, ‘Nate, why don’t you take my car back to the dormitory?’ He said, ‘Yeah, Maxie, I’ll take it.’ I had a new car or something. I didn’t even think he drank. But he was going along the river back to St. Norbert and he ran into something. One of my favorite players of all time was Nate. And he was so scared to come to my room – or the police brought him – and he said, ‘I’ve got some bad news for you.’”

On becoming good friends with Paul Hornung:

McGee: “He was the bonus plum. There used to be a bonus pick and the Packers won the pick by virtue of a coin flip or something like that. That was the same year I was coming back from the service. Hornung was already there and I was maybe a week late. I’ll never forget, I walked into the dressing room and said, ‘Where’s the Golden Boy?’ I named him Goldilocks and said, ‘Where’s Goldilocks, I want to meet him.’ He was a quarterback and I was a wide receiver. So there was Hornung and we met. He was single and I was single. And we decided the first day that we were going to be roommates.”

McGee died in 2007 at age 75. This interview was conducted in 2006.

 
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