With 85 days left until the start of the NFL season, our countdown to the big day, Thursday, Sept. 4, when the Green Bay Packers travel to Seattle to take on the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks will focus on the the number that represents the number of days remaining … today it’s #85.
We highly recommend “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore Them,” by John Maxymuk. The book, which chronicles every Packers jersey number was published in 2003, so it may be a bit incomplete, but it provides a strong background of information about Packers players and their jersey numbers up to that point in time.
Today, we highlight a player who might have been the most popular and carefree Packers ever to have worn the Green and Gold – Max McGee.
Many of you may remember McGee from his work as a color commentator on the Packers Radio Network for many years. But it was his years on the field that so many of us remember.
You see, there have been some really good players to have worn #85, including Phil Epps and Greg Jennings - heck even Corey Bradford, Ken Payne and Jeff Query had pretty good success wearing the uniform for the Packers.
Today we focus on McGee, who was one of those really steady players who was at Green Bay when Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959. He would go on to star with the team through the early- and mid-1960s. However it wasn’t until his final game – the first AFL vs. NFL Championship (otherwise known as Super Bowl I) that he came into national prominence. His juggling catches and last-minute insertion into the lineup are things of lore in Green Bay but were very real at the time.
Had Bart Starr not had an MVP-caliber performance in that first Super Bowl, McGee could have easily won the Award. We need to remember that.
McGee caught 345 passes for 6,346 yards (18.4-yard average per catch), and 50 touchdowns over his 12-year career – all in Green Bay.
Here is how Maxymuk describes McGee:
“Cool in the clutch was Max McGee. The bigger the game, the more tense the situation, the better he played. He had a remarkable ability to relax in any environment and to enjoy himself both on and off the field. He grew up in Texas and enrolled at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he not only led the team in rushing for three years while also lettering in baseball and basketball, but also took full advantage of the extracurricular advantages offered by the Big Esy. And he earned a useful degree in business, as well.
He was the Packers fifth round draft choice in 1954 and wen on to catch nine scring passes as a rookie, in addition to holding the job as the team’s punter. After two years in the Air Foce where he served with future teammate ad roomate Zeke Bratkowski, Max returned to Green Bay in 1957. Over the next few years, he esablished himself as the struggling team’s deep threat. In Lombardi’s first year, 1959, McGee led the league with an average of 23.2 yards per catch.
Finally, there was the simple fact that he could play. He might run around all night with his buddy Paul Hornung – and the stories those two could tell would make a whole other book – but he could still run on the field at game time. In the big games, he was at his best. In the 1960 title game against the Eagles, McGeen did fumble once, but he also ran a fake punt 35 yrds to covert a fourth down, which led to the Packers’ only touchdown eight plays later – a seven-yard pass to Max.
In the 1966 championship game against Dallas, Starr threw the last of his four touchdown passes 28 yards to McGee, wide open on a corner route for what would be the clinching score. Two weeks later came the game for which he is remembered, Super Bowl I against Kansas City.
Here are McGee’s career statistics as provided by Pro Football Reference:
Provided by Pro Football Reference, here is the list of players over the past 50 years who have worn #86.