By Kevin Patrowsky
If you haven't heard the news, former Green Bay Packer wide receiver Max McGee died Saturday. Many of the Packer faithful have shed tears remembering what a great person and athlete he was.
McGee died in his suburban Twin Cities home after falling while trying to clean leaves off of his garage roof. He was 75 years old and left a quite legacy.
Yes, he was fellow Packer Paul Hornung's late-night party partner in the 1960's when the two were continuously fined for sneaking out of training camp. There is the story of how McGee and Hornung, not expecting to play in the 1967 World Championship game (now known as Super Bowl I), partied all night and only slept for about an hour. But when regular Boyd Dowler was injured and put out of the game on the Packers' second offensive play, it was McGee who coach Vince Lombardi looked to.
Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, the flamboyant Kansas City Chiefs defensive back, had boasted before the game that Dowler wouldn't catch a pass against him. Dowler went down without a catch but McGee stepped up and caught seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. McGee was so convinced he wouldn't play that day that he had left his helmet in the locker room and had to borrow one for the first series.
Off the field, McGee was a brilliant businessman. A year after retiring in 1967, he co-founded the Chi Chi's Mexican restaurant chain. After his playing career was finished, McGee dabbled in other businesses besides Chi Chi's and moved in 1978 to the broadcast booth, where he spent the next 20 years doing Packer radio games as the color commentator.
In 1998 he sold his shares in Chi Chi's and retired from broadcasting. McGee didn't sit around, and in 1999 he founded the Max McGee National Research Center for Juvenile Diabetes in Milwaukee.
A man who played 12 years in the NFL, on all five of Vince Lombardi's Packer championship teams, McGee was loved by his teammates and by the people of Wisconsin. But what does all of this have to do with high school football, you might ask? Well, read on.
In 1950, McGee left White Oak High School in Texas to play for Tulane University. McGee was a running back, kicker and a kick returner. He led the nation in kickoff returns as a senior at Tulane.
In 1949 at White Oak, McGee did something that no other high school football player had ever done. He rushed for 3,048 yards his senior year. No high school player had ever gained 3,000 yards total offense in a season, let alone 3,000 yards rushing. White Oak went 10-1-1 in 1949 and that one loss put them out of the state championship.
In the first half of the 20th century there were a number of high scoring teams. It's true, records are spotty and many newspapers didn't report anything beyond the touchdowns scored in a game. But, White Oak is in Texas, where football is life and the records are kept for generations. In 1971 and 1972, Bill McMurry, of the now defunct Houston Post newspaper, gathered together stats for all sports from around Texas to the best of his ability and published the first ever high school record book for Texas.
McMurry covered baseball, track and basketball in addition to football in his book. McGee's accomplishment was missed in that first record book published in 1972. When the second edition was printed in 1975, McGee's totals had been added.
His accomplishments were put to the backburner when the "Sugar Land Express" came along and set the standard for rushing, scoring and total offense. Kenneth Hall ran for 3,160 yards as a sophomore in 1951, 3,458 yards in 1952 and 4,045 yards as a senior in 1953. Add in the 569 yards he had as a freshman in 1950 and you get an incredible 11,232 career rushing yards. He also threw for 3,326 yards and scored 899 points. When McMurry printed his first record book, the next closest runner had 6,130 career yards.
The 1994 National High School Sports Record Book listed McGee for the first time and he is still on the list of the 3,000-yard rushers for a single season.
California had its first 3,000-yard rusher, David Dotson of Moreno Valley, in 1991. In Wisconsin, our first (and only) 3,000-yard single season rusher was Kenosha St. Joseph's Adrian Davis with 3,422 yards in 2001. Pat Haden of Bishop Amat was California's first 3,000-yard passer in 1969. Todd Harring of Chippewa Falls McDonell passed for 3,056 yards in 1984 to be the first to eclipse that plateau in the Badger State.
I have looked over a lot lists and Haden seems to have been the first 3,000-yard single season passer - ever. If that is the case, it took a player 20 years to gain the yardage McGee did on the ground through the air. McGee was the first to set the stage for all the stat explosions in football. He was never one to boast about his stats. He was not only productive in high school and college, but he was a star as a pro football player and as a human being.
When I think of Max McGee I fondly remember him as a Green Bay packer and as a broadcaster. But, being a high school football historian, I think of Max McGee as the first statistical breakout star of the modern high school football era.