The Green Bay Packers lost another great member of their family on November 13, when Paul Hornung passed away. The former Notre Dame Fighting Irish star’s passing came just 15 days after another former legendary athlete of the Packers died. That player was Herb Adderley.
In fact, over just the past two years, 11 players who played under head coach Vince Lombardi in Green Bay have passed away.
Taylor, Gregg, Starr, Wood, Davis, Adderley and Hornung all have busts in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So does Lombardi.
For this story, I wanted to talk to a number of players who played with Hornung in Green Bay. Those players are Jerry Kramer, Boyd Dowler, Carroll Dale, Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski. I also talked to Don Horn, who got to know Hornung at alumni gatherings for the Packers, plus stood near Hornung at the “Ice Bowl”, when the Lombardi received permission from Commissioner Pete Rozelle to have Hornung on the Green Bay sideline during that legendary game.
When I talked with Kramer about Hornung five years ago, Jerry believed the primary reason that Lombardi decided to come to Green Bay was the presence of Hornung on the roster.
“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, ‘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.”
Hornung had come to Green Bay in the 1957 NFL draft as the bonus pick of that particular draft. The NFL used a bonus pick system throughout the 1950s when a given NFL team would get the No. 1 pick of the draft. A team would only be able to use the bonus pick once during that period. The Packers got their chance in 1957 and their fabulous scout Jack Vainisi instructed the general manager of the Packers then, Verne Lewellen, to select Hornung.
Hornung had won the Heisman Trophy in 1956. No. 5 is the only player to ever win that award who played on a losing team. Notre Dame was just 2-8 in 1956. But Hornung did it all for the Fighting Irish, as he led the team in rushing, passing, scoring and punting, not to mention kickoff and punt returns. If that wasn’t enough, “The Golden Boy” also led Notre Dame in passes defensed, as well as being second on the team in tackles and interceptions.
Under head coach Lisle Blackbourn in 1957 and head coach Ray “Scooter” McLean in 1958, the Packers did not utilize Hornung correctly. Sometimes No. 5 would play fullback. Other times halfback. Plus, when given a chance to pass, only completed one pass in seven attempts.
In those two years combined, Hornung only had 619 yards rushing and five touchdowns. No. 5 also caught 21 passes without a score. All told, Hornung scored 18 points in 1957 and 67 points in 1958, as in that year, Hornung kicked 11 field goals and converted 22 extra points. But the worst part was the losing. The Packers were a combined 4-19-1 in those two seasons.
Then Lombardi arrived in 1959. When Hornung and Lombardi spoke on the phone for the first time, his new head coach told his young star that he was going to be his left halfback. Or nothing at all.
And what a difference that made. Hornung became the face of the franchise over the the first three years he and Lombardi joined forces.
The primary reason? The power sweep. That play was the staple play of the Packers under Lombardi.
From 1959 through 1961, the Packers averaged 178 yards rushing per game. Taylor rushed for 2,860 yards during that time, but it was Hornung who seemed to be the biggest beneficiary of that play, as he rushed for 1,949 yards and scored 28 touchdowns.
Speaking of scoring, Hornung led the NFL in scoring for three straight years from 1959 through 1961. In 1959, No. 5 scored 94 points. In 1960, when the Packers advanced to the NFL title game for the first time under Lombardi, Hornung scored a whopping 176 points. In just 12 games! And in 1961, the year Hornung was named the NFL MVP and the Packers won their first NFL championship under Lombardi, Hornung scored 146 points.
In one of those games in 1961, Hornung scored 33 points in the 45-7 Green Bay victory over the Baltimore Colts at new City Stadium. No. 5 scored four touchdowns, kicked six extra points and one field goal.
Because of the Cold War between the United States and the then Soviet Union, a number of players from NFL teams were pressed into military duty in 1961. The Packers had three of their players pressed into service. They were Ray Nitschke, Boyd Dowler and Hornung.
As a matter of fact, at first it appeared that Hornung would not be allowed a pass from the Army to play in the 1961 NFL title game. That would have been quite an issue, had the league MVP not be allowed to play in the NFL championship game.
But thanks to the relationship that Lombardi and President John F. Kennedy had forged, Hornung was given a pass and scored 19 of the 37 points that the Packers scored in the first NFL championship game ever played in Green Bay, as the Pack whipped the New York Giants 37-0 at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field).
I talked to Kramer again recently about Hornung. No. 64 talked about the relationship between Lombardi and Hornung.
“Coach Lombardi liked Paul, perhaps more than any other player,” Kramer said. “Almost like a son. Coach had a great affection for Paul.”
One of the reasons had to be the way Hornung would run the power sweep.
“Paul would stay behind Fuzzy [Thurston] and I on the sweep,” Kramer said. “He just knew instinctively how to use our blocks and how to fake a defender into going left or right. Paul knew the precise instance when the defender had to make a commitment, and then Paul would either step inside or outside and set the player up and go the other way. He was just sensational in doing that on a consistent basis.
“Bob, in the first three years we ran that play, we averaged 8.3 yards a carry.”
Everyone on the offensive line played a huge part in the success of the power sweep, as did the other running back and the tight end. The guards were key components, as they often would get to the second or third level with their blocks.
The power sweep being run to the left was called red right 48 and if the sweep was run to the right it was called red right 49.
Both Hornung and Taylor excelled on that play running the ball, but especially Hornung. It didn’t hurt that both Hornung and Taylor were excellent blockers for one another.
Hornung also ran the red right 49 option play extremely well. On that play, Hornung would act like it was a running play and then throw an option pass.
When I talked with Dowler recently about Hornung, Boyd talked about how successful that option pass was for the Packers.
“On that play, the flanker comes in from the outside right on that play,” Dowler said. “I acted like I was going to block the safety who should be coming towards the line of scrimmage because the play looked like our power sweep. So once the safety came up, I would just turn and break out to the corner.
“Hornung would put the ball under his arm and take off like he was going to run and then he would pull up and pass. It seemed like it was easy to get open. I scored on that play a number of times.”
From 1959 through 1961, Hornung threw five touchdown passes using that play.
In one game in 1959, which was Dowler’s rookie year, No. 86 caught two touchdown passes from Hornung. It was the second to last game of the season against the Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum. In that game, Dowler caught a 26-yards touchdown pass from Hornung in the first quarter and then a 30-yard touchdown pass from No. 5 in the second quarter, as the Pack went on to win 38-20.
Another play in which Hornung really had a lot of success was called brown right pass 36 x-post. It was a variation of the brown right run 36 when Taylor would carry the football off tackle to the left. On that play, Hornung would block the weakside linebacker.
But when the pass play was called and Starr would fake to Taylor, Hornung would fake the block on the linebacker and head outside to the flat. The split end (usually Dowler) to that side would run a post pattern on that same play. Starr would have two options as to where to throw the ball.
The 43-yard touchdown pass that Dowler scored in the “Ice Bowl” was the brown right pass 36 x-post play. But in the 1965 game against the Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium, Starr utilized Hornung on that play twice.
In the 1st quarter, Starr called the 36 pass play. And Hornung scored on a 50-yard touchdown pass. Then in the 4th quarter, No. 5 scored again on that play, this time from 65 yards out. It was Hornung’s fifth touchdown of the game, as the Packers won 42-27.
As glorious as Hornung’s first three seasons were under Lombardi in Green Bay, the way he finished the 1965 season and postseason was extra special.
Hornung scored the only Green Bay touchdown in the 13-10 overtime win against the Baltimore Colts at Lambeau Field in the Western Conference Championship game. No. 5 had 75 total yards in that victory.
But that was nothing compared to what Hornung did in the 1965 NFL Championship Game against the defending NFL champion Cleveland Browns the next week at Lambeau Field.
Hornung rushed for 105 yards in 18 carries and scored a touchdown. No. 5 also caught a pass for eight more yards. Taylor also had a big game, as No. 31 ran for 96 yards on 27 carries, plus caught two passes for 20 yards.
Hornung’s touchdown run was his last score in a championship game. The run by Hornung came behind one of the finest blocking sequences ever by Kramer, who pulled in front of Hornung to the left heading to the end zone. No. 64 first got to the middle linebacker of the Browns and screened him away from Hornung and then went left to seal off the cornerback to open a lane for “The Golden Boy” to score on a 13-yard jaunt.
Hornung had injury issues with the Packers starting in 1962. No. 5 injured his knee that year and [Jerry] Kramer took over the kicking duties for the Pack that season.
Hornung only started eight games in ’62 and even though he wasn’t 100 percent, No. 5 played in the 1962 NFL Championship Game and rushed for 35 yards on eight carries. Hornung also completed a 21-yard pass to Dowler in the game on the option play.
The Packers won their second straight NFL title in ’62, by beating the New York Giants again, this time by a score of 16-7 at Yankee Stadium on a very cold and blustery day. The difference in the game were the three field goals and the extra point kicked by Kramer in the contest.
In 1963, both Hornung and defensive tackle Alex Karras were suspended for the entire season by Commissioner Pete Rozelle. The Packers missed “The Golden Boy” that year, even though the team finished 11-2-1, that wasn’t enough to catch the Bears, who finished 11-1-2. Chicago beat Green Bay twice that season and and went on to win the 1963 NFL title.
Hornung came back and started all 14 games in 1964, but he wasn’t the same player he was in the three-year span from 1959 though 1961. No. 5 rushed for 415 yards, but his kicking fell off badly, as he was just 12-of-38 in field goals that year. The Packers finished second again in ’64, as the Colts won the Western Conference.
Dale talked to me recently about joining the Packers in 1965 and meeting Hornung.
“When I arrived in Green Bay, my locker was right besides Hornung’s,” Dale said. “What really impressed me about Paul was besides his great athletic ability to execute run plays or pass plays, was the fact that he was always working with his teammates. Especially those who played his position.
“It was nice to see him share his experience and knowledge in terms of running, blocking and receiving. Over the two years I played with him and he had some injuries, he was almost like an assistant coach working with players. He was constantly working with the halfbacks.”
Hornung had injury issues again in ’65, this time dealing with a nerve issue in his neck/shoulder region. No. 5 started just eight games that season, but closed out the year in phenomenal fashion, with his performances versus the Colts and Browns. The victory against the Browns would be the first of three straight NFL titles by the Packers.
In 1966, as the Packers added three great rookies to their roster, halfback Donny Anderson, fullback Jim Grabowski and guard Gale Gillingham, Hornung had the neck/shoulder issues once again and only played in nine games and started six.
As Dale had mentioned earlier, Hornung tried to help Anderson as much as possible, as No. 44 explained to me recently.
“Paul was not going to be able to play much because of the injury to his neck,” Anderson said. “Elijah [Pitts] played a lot. Hornung helped me out in how best to run a pattern and learn the system that Lombardi had.
“It was a pretty simple system. It wasn’t complex at all. But there was one particular play which was called the A & B circle. And that play was primarily for the halfback or the fullback. And you would run the play from the weak side, and I played on the weak side the six years I played in Green Bay.
“Weakside was called Willie for the weakside linebacker. My job was to get in the open. Paul told me the key to the play was the middle linebacker. If you keyed on him, I could run either inside or outside. It was an excellent play. If you could beat the Willie linebacker and the Mike linebacker was gone, it was like an open field then. The play could go for 15 or 20 yards. So Hornung really helped me with that particular play.”
In 1966, Grabowski played fullback behind Taylor. And No. 33 was not getting any assistance whatsoever from No. 31.
Hornung was much different in terms of communicating with the younger players, as Grabowski told me recently.
“Paul just treated us all very well,” Grabowski said. “In ’66, Paul was hurt and didn’t play much because of the nerve problem in his shoulder. Paul was just a good guy.
“He would tell us what we should do in this situation and what we shouldn’t do. He was the voice of experience. I always appreciated him. Paul was very charismatic. He treated everyone well and he was a type of guy who everyone would flock to.”
Hornung didn’t play at all in the 1966 NFL title game or Super Bowl I. Even without Hornung, the Packers first beat the Dallas Cowboys 34-27 to win the NFL title and then the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 in Super Bowl I.
In 1967, Lombardi placed Hornung’s name on the expansion list for the New Orleans Saints and the newest team in the NFL did indeed select Hornung to play for them. But because of his neck/shoulder problem, Hornung retired.
Still, Hornung would be coming back to Green Bay in late 1967 at a very opportune time. I’m talking about the week of the “Ice Bowl” game at Lambeau Field.
Lombardi petitioned Commissioner Rozelle to get permission for Hornung to be on the Green Bay bench for the game. That petition was granted. Just seeing Hornung again on the sideline of a NFL title game made the players on the Packers feel good.
When I talked to Horn recently, he remembered Hornung being around the week of that big game.
“Yes, Paul was at a couple of meetings, in the locker room and on the practice field that week,” Horn said. “I believe Coach Lombardi wanted Paul around for good luck. I mean Max [McGee] and Fuzzy were still there, so Paul’s presence was good karma. Every chance he got, Paul was socializing, as you might expect.
“On the sideline of the game, everyone was bundled up trying to stay as warm as we could. I stood pretty close to Coach Lombardi almost the entire game. Paul was nearby as well. But just to have Paul’s presence there was great. I mean, Paul was an icon. I was just a rookie. I always admired him for what he did before I got there. Having Paul there with Coach Lombardi just made everyone more confident.”
In fact, it was Hornung who gave Starr the hand warmers just before No. 15 went back to the huddle just before his legendary quarterback sneak.
In 1986, Hornung was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Speaking of the Hall of Fame, I never met Hornung in person, although I came for close one time at the party the Packers threw for Kramer when he was being enshrined later that night in Canton in 2018.
As many of you know, I campaigned and promoted Jerry for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for several years. In 2012, I was talking to Jerry and I said it would be a good idea for someone like Hornung to contact the Seniors Selection Committee at the Hall of Fame, either by letter or vocally.
Jerry gave me Paul’s number. I called Paul and I asked him if he could write a letter or talk to the seniors committee on Jerry’s behalf. He said he absolutely would. And sure enough, that year he wrote a great letter to the committee.
At Jerry’s party, I saw Paul immediately. I definitely planned to talk with him. But I first talked to Dan Kramer and Rick Gosselin right after I arrived. I also talked to Jerry shortly after that. It was while I was talking to Jerry when I saw Paul leave the party.
The two phone conversations that I had with Paul told me something about the character of the man. That’s why I wanted to talk to some people who knew Hornung as a teammate and as a friend.
People like Kramer, Dowler, Dale, Anderson, Grabowski and Horn.
And there are more stories, as you might expect.
When I talked with Kramer, he mentioned that his daughter Diana called Paul a Renaissance man. A very apropos description of Hornung. Why? Because Paul was intelligent, charming, sophisticated, principled, classy and had multiple talents.
Kramer also talked to me about being with his buddy Hornung at the Kentucky Derby.
“At the Kentucky Derby, we would go down to the stables,” Kramer said. “I don’t believe everyone was allowed at the stables. Maybe just the owners. But Paul was allowed to go down there. Paul first started working at the track when he was just a kid, selling racing sheets or something like that.
“But we would go down and talk to the jockeys, talk to the owners and talk to the horse. We wanted to see if we wanted to put some money down on him. We then go up to our suite and enjoy the race. But everything was arranged by Paul. He took care of the whole package.”
Kramer also remembers how much Hornung enjoyed being with Jerry’s children.
“When I would have my children with me at some event, like maybe the Lombardi Golf Classic, Paul would sit with the kids and shoot the breeze with them. I have a number of photos of Paul with my kids.
“Paul knew how I felt about my children and he said, ‘Kramer, if I had kids as good looking as yours, I would have a dozen of them.’ Paul just enjoyed the hell about being with them.”
Anderson recalled a couple of stories about Hornung as well.
“When I was a rookie in 1966, as I had run a 9.6 100 at Texas Tech, I asked Paul one time about his best 100 time,” Anderson said. “And Paul said he ran a 10 flat. And I said, was that downhill or uphill? Paul laughed. He just had a great sense of humor.”
Anderson remembers another story when he was a rookie.
“I always got along with Jerry, Fuzzy, Max and Paul,” Anderson said. “And one time McGee asked me to go with the group to Fuzzy’s to have a few cocktails. So I get there and I asked why they had invited me, a rookie, to be with proven veterans and world champions and to have a few drinks. And McGee said, ‘That’s pretty simple. You have all the money and you can pick up the bill.’
Dowler also remembered how encouraging Hornung was with him when he first joined the team in 1959.
“Paul was always very supportive of me,” Dowler said. “He claimed to recognize that I would end up as a pretty good player. He would give me tips about running pass patterns. Sometimes we would run patterns on the same side of the field. He said the key was understanding what the defense was trying to do.
“He had a real instinctive feeling about where you needed to go to get open, based on the defense. Like I know where you are going and you know where I’m going. We worked as a combination there. We were very successful doing that.”
Dowler also talked about Hornung as never being full of himself.
“Paul didn’t act like a big shot,” Dowler said. “He was cool. He and McGee were a pretty good pair. They kind of wandered around and acted like Paul and Max. They didn’t put on any show, they just went about doing what they did.
“They were good conversationalists. They were funny. They definitely attracted people. They acted pretty natural. Paul just liked everyone.”
Grabowski recalled the same type of demeanor from Hornung.
“I don’t recall Paul ever really getting pissed off about something,” Grabowski said. “That was the way he played and also the way he was with his teammates. He just had a great attitude. Again, very charismatic.”
Dale recalls how Hornung was to be around, although he never socialized with No. 5.
“My experience with him was all very good. I mainly saw him in the locker room and on the field. I don’t know anything about his escapades,” Dale laughed. “Paul was just a great teammate.”
Horn didn’t play with Hornung, but got to know him a bit the week of the “Ice Bowl” and at alumni events.
“I got to know Paul a little bit over the years,” Horn said. “More like we were acquaintances. But I really admired him. With our last names being so close to one another, when we would get together at reunions, I would get announced first and I would get a nice courtesy applause and then when Hornung was announced, Paul would get the big roar from the crowd. We always would have some big laughs about that.
“Paul was just a great guy to be around and I only wish I could have played with him.”
The bottom line, Paul Hornung was a Hall of Famer in football and also a Hall of Famer in life. There will never be another one like him.
Rest in peace, Paul. May God bless you and your family, as well as your teammates and friends!