Fort Walton Beach’s Edward Lee Hubbard was in a prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam in 1970, the last year his hometown Kansas City Chiefs played in the Super Bowl, and received two tickets to this Sunday’s Super Bowl to watch the Chiefs play the San Francisco 49ers directly from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
FORT WALTON BEACH — The Viet Cong tossed Air Force First Lt. Ed Hubbard into a dingy, 12-square-foot cell in a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp on July 24, 1969.
Hours later, they tossed another man in the cell — Navy pilot Charlie Plumb.
Over the decades, the irony that the Viet Cong had placed the two men together to try and break up familiarity between the prisoners wouldn't be lost on either of them.
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Both men were from Shawnee, Kansas, a small suburb of Kansas City. They'd both gone to the same high school, Shawnee Mission High, just four years apart. Both of them had been captured after their planes were shot down — Hubbard in 1966 and Plumb in 1967.
And they both had a deep, overriding love of the Kansas City Chiefs, who would play in the Super Bowl just six months later and defeat the Minnesota Vikings on Jan. 11, 1970.
"I was residing in a 12-square foot cell with Charlie Plumb that day," said Hubbard, who now lives in Fort Walton Beach. "We didn't even know they'd won until three years later."
This time, things will be much different for Hubbard.
Thursday morning, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell got in touch with Hubbard via teleconference to tell him how much he admired his sacrifice and that he'd come bearing gifts — two Super Bowl tickets for Sunday's game between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers in Miami.
It's the first trip to the Super Bowl for the Chiefs since 1970, when Hubbard and Plumb were imprisoned in North Vietnam. The two weren't released until March 4, 1973.
Hubbard was imprisoned by the Viet Cong for a total of 6 1/2 years.
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"It is such an honor to meet you," Goodell told Hubbard. "We are all inspired by your story and your service and sacrifice, so we wanted to make sure you didn't miss the Chiefs in another Super Bowl."
Hubbard was drawn to the teleconference at Step One Automotive Group by Step One's Raffaella Fant under the ruse of coming to look at the company's new offices to "go over a few things." Hubbard has worked with the company as a motivational speaker in the past.
Minutes after he sat down, Goodell popped up on the big-screen television in the conference room.
"I thought somebody must have been looking at something about the Super Bowl on their laptop," said Hubbard, who retired from the Air Force as a Colonel. "Then (Goodell) started talking to me ... I was dumbfounded."
Hubbard, who ejected from his plane while it was at 15,000 feet and going 600 miles per hour, managed to evade the Viet Cong for several hours in the jungle before being captured.
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"We give Super Bowl tickets to fans, particularly in the military, who have done extraordinary things," Goodell told Hubbard. "So when we heard you had to wait three years to find out (the Chiefs) were in the game, much less that they won it, we wanted you to be there."
After the Chiefs defeated the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 19, Hubbard told Fant the story about being in the POW camp the last time the Chiefs played in the Super Bowl and how it had always been his dream to watch them play in another Super Bowl.
"She said 'If that's your dream, then it's my dream, too,'" Hubbard said. "But I didn't really think much more about it. I can't believe she made it happen."
Hubbard said he's taking Fant as his guest to the Super Bowl.
"My wife's from Ireland and definitely not a football fan," Hubbard said, laughing. "I wanted to take her, but she said it would be a wasted ticket."
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Hubbard, who said he watched every game the Chiefs played this year, has deep ties to the team. After he returned home from Vietnam in 1973, Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt invited Hubbard and several other Kansas City-area POWs to Arrowhead Stadium to meet the team and he was led on a tour by legendary coach Hank Stram and got to meet players like All-Pro wide receiver Otis Taylor.
"When I came home, my son asked me if I'd gotten any of their autographs," Hubbard said. "And told him 'No, but they all got mine,' which was great comedy at our house for a long time.
"I've spoken to the football team at the University of West Alabama several times, where (Chiefs wide receiver) Tyreek Hill played at. I've seen every game this year ... every game almost every year, actually."
Hubbard is truly a die-hard Chiefs fan. He told Goodell he "suffered through all the (Marty) Schottenheimer playoff losses," and called Chiefs quarterback and 2018 NFL Most Valuable Player Patrick Mahomes "magic with a football in his hands."
He said his favorite Chief of all-time is linebacker Derrick Thomas, who died in 2000 as a result of injuries suffered in a car accident days earlier and was the son of Robert James Thomas, an Air Force Captain who died after his plane was shot down during the Vietnam War.
Hubbard said that when Goodell called and offered the tickets, he could not help but think of the day he first met Plumb, 51 years ago in that hellish cell in North Vietnam.
"This is the greatest day of my life," Hubbard told Goodell. "I appreciate it more than you'll ever know."