MIAMI (AP) — Edward Lee Hubbard had no idea his beloved Kansas City Chiefs were playing in the Super Bowl the previous time they made it to the big stage, nor did he learn that they had won the 1970 championship until three years after the fact.
Hubbard instead was living in a 6-by-6 prison cell as a prisoner of war.
The Kansas City, Missouri, native had been flying a mission over North Vietnam when he was shot down by two surface-to-air missiles. After running through the jungle for a number of hours, the first lieutenant was captured by Viet Cong soldiers and put in a prison camp, where he subsisted on 300 calories a day for what wound up being 2,420 days.
When NFL officials heard his story, they decided to make sure Hubbard wouldn’t miss the Chiefs in their return. So with a special invitation from Commissioner Roger Goodell, the 81-year-old Hubbard will be in Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday night to watch Kansas City play the San Francisco 49ers in its first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years.
“We are inspired by your story and service and sacrifice,” Goodell told him in a video. “I read all about what you went through, the 6 1/2 years is incredible, and we just don’t want you to miss the Kansas City Chiefs playing in the next Super Bowl. We would like you to be here so you can see it live.”
With a big smile, Hubbard replied: “It would be the greatest day of my life.”
He’s had plenty of good ones since that fateful July day in 1966.
Hubbard graduated from Shawnee Mission High School, about 20 minutes from Arrowhead Stadium, and joined the Air Force Reserves in 1955 at the age of 17. Six years later, Hubbard went on active duty and entered the aviation program at James Connally Air Force Base in Texas, where he was commissioned and received his wings.
He had flown 25 missions during the Vietnam War without a major incident. It was the 26th that changed his life.
When he was finally released on March 4, 1973, along with many others from his camp, Hubbard returned home to Kansas City. He learned the Chiefs had won the Super Bowl after the 1969 season, and then-coach Hank Stram even gave him a tour of the stadium, which had broken ground in 1968 and had just opened the previous year.
“When I got home that evening,” Hubbard told Goodell, “my son was asking me — he was only 10 years old. And he asked, ‘Who did you meet today?’ And I said Curley Culp, Otis Taylor, all the great ones. My son knew all of those guys.”
Hubbard remained in the Air Force until 1990, when he retired with the rank of colonel. He became a public speaker, and founded Positive Vectors, a firm dedicated to helping others overcome obstacles. In 1994, Hubbard relayed his experiences in Vietnam in his book, “Escape from the Box: The Wonder of Human Potential.”
He retired to Fort Walton Beach on the Florida Panhandle, but he’ll be in Miami for the Super Bowl on Sunday night.