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Former POW gets second chance to watch Chiefs in Super Bowl

MIAMI -- The last time the Kansas City Chiefs played in the Super Bowl 50 years ago, Edward Lee Hubbard was withering away in Vietnam POW camp, unaware his hometown team was hoisting the championship trophy.

Hubbard, an Air Force First Lieutenant at the time, was living in a 6-by-6-foot cell as a prisoner of war after his plane was shot down over North Vietnam on July 20, 1966. For the next 2,420 days, Hubbard, along with many others, wallowed in captivity. The Kansas City, Missouri native had no clue Hank Stram's Chiefs won it all in Jan. 1970. He wouldn't find out for three more years, until his release in March of 1973.

With K.C. finally returning to the Super Bowl, Hubbard, who retired a Colonel in 1990, won't just get to watch his team play the biggest game of the year, he'll be at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami cheering on the Chiefs against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell surprised Hubbard this week with two Super Bowl tickets to make sure the Air Force veteran would get the thrill of a lifetime.

"We are inspired by your story and service and sacrifice," Goodell told Hubbard in a video conference. "I read all about what you went through, the six and a half 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."

Chiefs legendary owner Lamar Hunt moved his team to Kansas City in 1963, the same year that Hubbard was deployed to Europe.

"I went to Europe for three years, I left two weeks before their first exhibition game, so I never saw them play," Hubbard told NFL.com in a phone interview. "Went to Europe for three years where we had literally no contact with the sports world in America because people in Europe weren't interested in football in those days. Then I went from Europe to South East Asia, flew for 30 days in the Vietnam War, and was shot down and spent the next six and a half years in captivity. I left in October, '63, came home in March of '73. So, I was out of the country for nearly 10 years. During that time, you guys invented the Super Bowl, and you played a few games before I got out, so I missed them."

Hubbard said with a shorthanded crew, he was on his third mission in 24 hours on July 20, 1966, when his plane took fire from surface missiles. The craft caught fire, and Hubbard was forced to eject. He spent the next eight hours fleeing Viet Cong in the jungles of North Vietnam but was eventually captured late in the day. It began the start of his long 2,420 days as POW.

"It was grim," Hubbard said. "The first three years it was brutal. A lot of beating. A lot of harassment all of the time. Very, very, limited quantity of food and water. Life was a little tedious, let's say."

Upon his release on March 4, 1973, Hubbard rejoined a different world.

"The world had changed so dramatically in the seven years I was gone," he said. "It was like we'd gone in the closet, closed the door, sat there for seven years, opened the door and came back out. And the whole world had moved on without us, and we couldn't relate to a lot of things."

"Miniskirts had come and gone," Hubbard quipped.

During his six and a half years in the dark, Hubbard said prisoners were only informed of the bad things that took place.

"But they didn't tell us about the Super Bowl, of course," he said.

Upon his release, Hubbard and others were sent to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, where he learned of the Super Bowls and the Chiefs win in SBIV.

"(We) went down to the Red Cross lounge and they had a stockpile of videos, and we watched the Super Bowls, they had them all. So, we got to watch all of those," he said. "We were like sponges. We were just sucking up everything that was around. And a girl with the Red Cross said: 'Would you like a beer?' and I said 'Yup, we'll have one of those too.'"

After his release, Hubbard was medically grounded for a year, having his weight drop from 175 pounds to 98 pounds during his time in the POW camp. He then flew F-4 fighters for 12 years ("life doesn't get a whole lot better than that," he said). He was director of the Air Force safety organization for a decade and began motivational speaking six years before he retired.

Hubbard said he's spoken in 16 different countries relaying his experience as a POW and how that relates to today's world.

"What we learned sitting around the jailhouse, and how it applies to improve your life," Hubbard said. "Don't sit there and tell me how tough life is, don't tell me you're having a bad day. I don't do bad days. Ten years ago, I had quadruple bypass (surgery), was in the hospital three days, walked out, two weeks later was back out (speaking). I don't have time. Life's too short to waste time feeling sorry for yourself, or living in the pity trap"

Now 81 years old living in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Hubbard said Sunday's Super Bowl will be the first time he'll be able to see his Chiefs live.

"When I was released, not only did I not know the Chiefs had won the Super Bowl, I didn't even know there was such a thing as the Super Bowl," he said. "I knew the Chiefs were a team, but I've never seen them play. In fact, to this day, I have not seen them play live, only seen them on television. Sunday will be my first of a lot of things. Seeing the Chiefs live will be a first. It will probably be one of the greatest things I've ever done since I was born."

Upon getting the news from Commissioner Goodell that he would be attending Sunday's Super Bowl, Hubbard said he almost fell out of his chair.

"This will be the highlight of my life," he said. "There are three things I consider really, really big deals. One, it was getting married to my wife. Two, getting out of prison. And three will be going to the Super Bowl. Nothing else in my life is going to compare to those three things."

A fan of his hometown team through the ups and downs of the last 50 years, with the Chiefs coming short of the Super Bowl several times, Hubbard takes a positive outlook, believing Patrick Mahomes can lead K.C. to a win.

Hubbard said his favorite player before Mahomes was the late linebacker Derrick Thomas. Hubbard believes Thomas embodied the drive and will he can relate to.

"He was my hero in those days because he had this dedication, unbelievable desire to do something that nobody else could do," he said. "So that's the world I live in, I'm always looking for the guy that knows the answer, and I think Mahomes is the answer."

Hubbard is confident the reigning NFL MVP can guide his Chiefs to a Super Bowl victory.

"I think the Chiefs have the skills, all they've got to do is have the desire and the ability to do what needs to be done," he said. "That's kind of the lesson we learned in prison. Every problem has a solution, and your job is not to complain about the problems, your job is to solve the problems. And the Chiefs have the skills to do that."

Despite facing a ravenous San Francisco 49ers defense and a good Kyle Shanahan offense, Chiefs fans have faith that Mahomes talent can overcome.

"No doubt in my mind," he said of the Chiefs winning. "Otherwise, there wouldn't be a point in me being there. You can go watch anybody loose at a ball game. I'm very confident. I've been watching every game. I'm overwhelmed with Mahomes' skills. He seems to have a sixth sense to know exactly what needs to be done next, and he seems to have no fear. He can run one direction and throw the ball the other way, or he can throw it behind his back, or he can throw it with his other hand, if necessary. There aren't a lot of people out there who have that ability to think that fast under that kind of pressure. I have great confidence he's going to pull this off."

If the Chiefs win, Hubbard has one more request of Commissioner Goodell:

"And there is only one thing I would add to that, is if I could talk to Roger Goodell before the game, and tell him that if the Chiefs win, I want to present the trophy to them. I'm hoping. If I meet him before the game, trust me, I'm going to ask him."

If the Chiefs win, this time Hubbard will be in the stadium to celebrate. He won't have to find out three years later after the most arduous period of his life.

Super Bowl LIV details

When is the Super Bowl? Super Bowl LIV between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers will take place on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, at 6:30 p.m. EST.

Where is the Super Bowl? Hard Rock Stadium will host the game in 2020, marking Miami's 11th time as Super Bowl host city.

*How to watch the Super Bowl: Tune in on Fox, with the NFL App, Yahoo Sports App, and on NFL.com. Check out more updates and info here. *

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