BEFORE SHE left the house last Saturday, Denise McGee told her 75-year-old husband, Max, not to go up on the roof to clean off the leaves. It was sound advice, and Max treated it the same way he treated Vince Lombardi's announcement to the Packers before Super Bowl I: "Men, this is a very important game for us. Don't anybody do anything foolish. Fine for missing bed check will be raised to $10,000."
McGee ignored both of them. He went up on the roof of his Deephaven, Minn., home and fell to his death, and those who knew this warm-hearted and generous man said, "What a tragedy. There never will be another one like him." They're right, because almost 41 years ago he became the hero of the first Super Bowl, which was called the AFL-NFL Championship Game in those days. McGee, an aging backup, had stayed out all night partying with three stewardesses on L.A.'s Sunset Strip. When Boyd Dowler suffered a separated shoulder McGee was rushed into the game, and his spectacular afternoon produced a legend.
The first TD pass he caught from Bart Starr—the first points in Super Bowl history—was behind him, and McGee caught it with one hand. "You'd expect a $100,000 quarterback to throw it better to a $25,000 end," he said. "I thought the ball was going to be intercepted. I tried to knock it down. It stuck to my hand." The second TD came as McGee absorbed a ferocious shot. "Got my bell rung," he said. "Lucky to hold on to it."
When it was over McGee had caught seven passes for 138 yards. Yet the MVP award of a Corvette went to Starr. McGee, 34 and near the end of his career, had caught only four balls all year. No one thought he would become one of the game's alltime heroes. "I set a record that will never be broken," McGee said a few years ago. "Most passes caught with a hangover."
A '$25,000 END' McGee was an unlikely Super Bowl hero.