When Vince Lombardi first came into the NFL, he was the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants from 1954 through 1958.
The G-Men were very successful during that time, as the team won the 1956 NFL Championship, plus lost the 1958 NFL Championship Game in overtime.
One of the big reasons for the offensive success for the Giants during that time was the play of halfback Frank Gifford.
When Lombardi saw an opportunity to become a head coach in the NFL in 1959 when the Green Bay Packers came calling, he saw a player that reminded him of Gifford.
That player was Paul Hornung.
That may have been the biggest reason Lombardi decided to accept the job in Green Bay. Jerry Kramer thinks that may be a definite possibility.
“When you talk about Paul, you have to remember how critical he was in the decision that coach Lombardi made to come to Green Bay,” Kramer said. “If you think back, Bart Starr was methane. He was colorless, odorless, tasteless and virtually invisible. We didn’t know who Bart was.
“Bart was competing with a few other guys like Babe Parilli, Joe Francis and Lamar McHan. Bart was back and forth the first couple of years after Lombardi became the coach.
“But I do remember Lombardi saying, ‘that Hornung was going to be his Gifford.’ And remember how critical the sweep was to the Lombardi offense.
“As coach said quite often, ‘This is a play we will make go. This is a play we must make go. We will run it again and again and again.’
“So Hornung may have been the key to getting Lombardi to come to Green Bay.”
The early success for the Packers under Lombardi supports Kramer’s supposition. For one thing, the power sweep averaged 8.3 yards-per-carry the first three years the Packers utilized the play.
The Packers became a force in the running game during that time, as the team averaged 178 yards a game on the ground from 1959-1961.
Fullback Jim Taylor gained 2,860 yards during that time, but Hornung was the star of the offense for many reasons those first three seasons under Lombardi.
During that same time, Hornung gained 1,949 yards rushing, plus scored a whopping 28 touchdowns on the ground.
Hornung was a multi-talented player who could light up the scoreboard. In fact, No. 5 led the NFL in scoring in 1959, 1960 and 1961.
In 1960, Hornung scored 176 points (15 touchdowns, 15 field goals, 41 extra points). This was done in just 12 games. If Hornung had played 16 games that year like the NFL does nowadays, he would have scored 235 points, based on his scoring average per game that season.
Hornung could do it all. He could obviously run, but he also could block extremely well, plus had great hands in catching the football. In addition, Hornung could throw the ball on occasion, as he had been a quarterback at Notre Dame.
Finally, Hornung could also kick. All of those attributes made him an extremely valuable player for the Packers. And as it turned out, No. 5 was also named as the NFL MVP in 1961.
In the 1961 NFL Championship Game in Green Bay, Hornung scored 19 of the 37 points the Packers put on the scoreboard that day, as the Packers blanked the Giants.
Hornung almost didn’t get to play that game because he was on duty with the Army at the time. Fortunately, Lombardi had become friends with President John F. Kennedy and that relationship helped remedy the situation.
Initially, Hornung was not granted access to go back to the Packers for the championship game. That would have been a huge blow, seeing that No. 5 was the NFL MVP that season.
Lombardi was obviously concerned about that situation, so he placed a call to JFK to see if the President would get Hornung a pass to join the team for the big game. Sure enough, Hornung was given a pass to play in the game.
“Paul Hornung isn’t going to win the war on Sunday, but the football fans of this country deserve the two best teams on the field that day,” Kennedy told Lombardi a few days before the championship game against the Giants.
Bottom line, Hornung had a great career with the Packers, even though he wasn’t quite as effective in his last few seasons with the team due to a shoulder injury.
As it was, Hornung was part of four NFL championship teams with the Packers under Lombardi, including the team which won Super Bowl I.
Hornung is one of only five players who have scored at least 700 points for the Packers. No. 5 finished his career with 760 points on 62 touchdowns, 66 field goals and 190 extra points.
This all led to Hornung being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.
But that Hall of Fame career started when Lombardi first saw what Hornung could mean to his offense, much like Gifford had done in New York. And the signature play for that offense was the power sweep.
Nobody ran the play better than Hornung either, as Kramer explained to me.
“Paul had good speed, but not great speed,” Kramer said. “But Paul was smart. He was incredibly bright about using his interference.
“For instance, when I would get out on a cornerback on the sweep, the cornerback had to make a decision. He either had to go down at my knees and take me out, or he had to pick a side or back up. If he backed up, I would just run over him.
“If he decided to pick a side to go around me, Hornung would set him up beautifully by faking to the left or right and set the guy up for me to block.
“Paul was absolutely unequaled in that ability. He was a very, very smart runner and a very knowledgeable runner. He just made the play a lot easier for us to execute.”
It was the power sweep in which Hornung scored his last postseason touchdown. It was the 1965 NFL Championship Game versus the Cleveland Browns, as the Packers won 23-12 at Lambeau Field.
No. 5 scored the last touchdown of the game on that signature play of Lombardi and the Packers. Kramer played a big part in the success of that particular play. No. 64 pulled left and first blocked the middle linebacker and then a cornerback as the “Golden Boy” found the end zone.
Kramer and the rest of the offensive line of the Packers totally controlled the trenches that day under muddy conditions, as Hornung rushed for 105 yards and Taylor ran for 96 more.