FBI investigated McGee's gambling soon after career ended
MADISON, Wis. -- Hard-partying Green Bay Packers receiver Max McGee, who scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl history, had a gambling habit that the FBI tracked after his career ended, newly released records show.
Agents investigated McGee for about a year, from late 1972 through September 1973, before dropping the case for lack of evidence, according to records released to The Associated Press under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Information in the late player's file appears to show the FBI thought he was a bookmaker but determined he wasn't, said I. Nelson Rose, a professor at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, Calif. Given that there are no federal laws against making a bet, the FBI wouldn't have had anything to charge McGee with, Rose said Friday.
"I'll be damned," McGee's former teammate and longtime friend Jerry Kramer said when told of the file released to the AP last week.
Likewise, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Sunday he did not know about the FBI's probe of McGee.
"You know he was betting. Everybody knows that," Kramer said Friday from his home in Boise, Idaho. "I kind of thought it was more of a social thing than serious gambling."
The fun-loving McGee was beloved by Packers fans not only for his play, but also for his lifestyle and his years as an announcer for the Packer Radio Network. He died in October at age 75 when he fell while clearing leaves off the roof of his Minneapolis home.
McGee often talked about his love of gambling on horses and playing poker. One of the songs played at his funeral was Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler."
McGee's widow, Denise McGee, said she had no idea about the FBI investigation but did not meet him until after the probe was closed.
"I was with him for 26 years, and he is the most honest and loyal person I ever met," she said. "Did he like to bet on football games? Yeah, a lot of people do."
McGee played for the Packers from 1954 to 1967, helping them win five NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowls. He became part of team lore when he admitted staying up all night to party with three stewardesses on L.A.'s Sunset Strip before the first Super Bowl, then hauling in a pass from Bart Starr for the first touchdown in the championship game's history.
"When it's third-and-10," McGee once said, "you can take the milk drinkers and I'll take the whiskey drinkers every time."
FBI files become public record once the subject has died, though portions of the files that concern people who are still alive can be kept secret. The heavily redacted files on McGee show the FBI conducted interviews, obtained his phone records, staked out his Milwaukee restaurant and considered calling a grand jury before ending the investigation.
The first record in McGee's FBI file shows that McGee was being investigated along with at least one other person, whose name was redacted. The file notes that McGee was known to be in frequent company of people connected with a gambling scandal in the NFL in 1963, though the names are also blacked out from that passage.
McGee's roommate for 10 seasons, Hall of Fame halfback Paul Hornung, was suspended from the NFL in 1963 for gambling on his own games, then reinstated a year later.
In his 1965 book "Football and the Single Man," Hornung called McGee his best friend and wrote that the two enjoyed playing poker together but said he never placed a bet with McGee.
"If I'm up in Green Bay during the season, I have no compulsion to gamble," Hornung wrote. "I would never be the one to say, 'Gee, I sure would like to get up a poker game now.' But if somebody said, 'We'll get a poker game going,' then, naturally, Max McGee and I would be there."
Hornung did not return a call Friday seeking comment.
The FBI reports include notes based on an interview with an unidentified person who is described as a friend of McGee's for more than 12 years. That person said the two had talked about football and other games, including who they thought would win, but did not place bets over the phone.
Making an interstate phone call would give the FBI jurisdiction over any illegal activities involved with that call.
The FBI investigation appeared to hinge on an unnamed informant who told the FBI that McGee placed bets with a bookmaker in Miami.
One memo to the director of the FBI dated July 24, 1973, said the investigation into McGee was being closed "in view of the inactivity of the principals in this matter during the football off season. This case may be reopened during the football season should renewed activities warrant."
The Miami FBI office also considered taking the case to a grand jury and issuing a subpoena to McGee to get more information, but abandoned the idea.
The file says that McGee was making bets with local bookmakers in Wisconsin, and that those bets were being transmitted to Miami. The file also quotes another unnamed source as saying McGee was frequently in Florida at the time, but there is no other information on McGee's ties to Miami.
The last report, dated Sept. 7, 1973, from Miami, said the FBI was unable to establish evidence that McGee participated in interstate gambling.
"Milwaukee source advised Max McGee makes gambling calls to Miami, however, recipient of calls not identified," the final report said. "No further investigation being conducted."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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