5 days to Green Bay Packers football: Paul Hornung

With 5 days left until the start of the NFL season, our countdown to the big day continues.

Thursday, Sept. 4, is the day when the Green Bay Packers travel to Seattle to take on the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks.  

Over the  course of the next 5 days we focus on the number that represents the days remaining … and for today we take a look number 5.

Yesterday we took a step away from our usual countdown of players numbers and used number 6 to look at the one and only Vince Lombardi – the sixth head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

So, today we move on to #5 and as you may have guessed, that player is Paul Hornung, the all-purpose halfback who was part of one of, if not the best, running back tandems ever to play for the Green and Gold. With Jim Taylor as his backfield mate in the early 1960s, they helped lead the Packers to numerous championships during the Glory Days.

And while there have been only five players who have worn #5 over the past 50 years, the number is not among those that are retired. It seems that the Packers don’t issue the number out of respect for Hornung. But there was a stretch in the mid- to late-1980s when the number was given out. Here are the players who wore it:  Vince FerragamoWillie GillusDon Majkowski, and Curtis Burrow.

So, though Hornung’s number isn’t among those officially retired, it might as well be.

Of those players, only Majkowski had any kind of career with the team. The others were busts who spent very limited time in Green Bay.

I remember well the outcry when Majkowski wore the number during the 1987 preseason. It wasn’t long before he switched to wearing #7.

Burrow was a kicker who lasted one game in 1988; Ferragamo was a quarterback who finished his career in Green Bay in 1986 by playing dismally in three games; and Gillus was a quarterback who played just a single game in 1987.

So, though Hornung’s number isn’t among those officially retired, it might as well be.

John Maxymuk, the author of “Packers by the Numbers: Jersey Numbers and the Players Who Wore them,” tells us about Hornung’s career with the franchise:

The only college football player o win the Heisman Trophy on a losing team was Notre Dame quarterback Paul Hornung from the 2-8 Fighting Irish in 1956.

He was a remarkably versatile two-way college player; he could pass, run, kick, block, and tackle. In 1956 he finished second in the nation in all-purpose yards, led Notre Dame in eight offensive categories, and even finished second on the team in tackles as a safety.

The Packers won a coin flip with the Chicago Cardinals for the 1957 Bonus Pick, the first pick in the draft that year, and picked Hornung.

Paul had hope that he would go to Chicago for the commercial and entertainment options available in the big city. After his first two years in Green Bay, many Packers fans wished that had happened as well.

Hornung looked to be a flop of monumental proportions in those first two years. Much like the long string of option quarterbacks produced by the universities of Nebraska and Oklahoma over the past few decades, he couldn’t throw well enough to play quarterback, couldn’t run fast enough to play halfback, and was not big enough to play fullback, Packers coaches Lisle Blackbourn in 1957 and Scooter McLean in 1958 tried him at each backfield position and he excelled at none. He was beginning to look like a more expensive Fred Cone, a part-time fullback and full-time place-kicker.

Off the field, his swinging lifestyle was resented by fans who wanted better results on the field. Teaming with fellow bachelor Max McGee from the start, the two were spotted frequently in local drinking establishments entertaining a constantly changing series of women. Wild rumors were spread by gossip throughout the small town, and Paul’s image suffered. He wanted to be traded and considered retirement.

Enter Lombardi and the resurrection of Hornung’s carer. Lombardi’s assistants did not think much of Hornung in 1959 when they unanimously derided his lack of drive and production and wanted to get rid of him.

However, Lombardi’s offense was perfectly suited to Paul’s multiplicity of talents. His lack of foot speed was not a great hindrance in Lombardi’s dual-back, run-based offense that placed a greater emphasis on the ball carrier picking the right hole to “run to daylight” while the other back ran interference.

Hornung and Jim Taylor formed a perfect team. Neither was real big or real fast, but both made great cuts to the hole and each blocked selflessly  for the other.

Both could catch the swing pass out of the backfield and make something happen. One of the things that jumps out at you when looking at Hornung’s statistics are his receiving numbers. In his career, Paul averaged 11.4 yards per catch, which is very high for a back, and scored 12 times out of 130 catches.

The other factor that made him perfect for Lombardi’s offense was his ability to run the halfback option play.

The defense not knowing whether Paul would run or throw made Lombardi’s favorite play, the power sweep, that much more effective. It was Paul’s favorite play. In his first four years under Lombardi, Hornung completed 18-of-35 option passes for 335 yards and five touchdowns. That’s an average of close to 10 yards per pass and kept the chains moving for the Packers.

The 1961 championship game was the first one ever played in Green Bay and would give the town the nickname “Titletown USA.”

The Packers were favored by 3-1/2 points as the home team, but were forced to punt on their first possession; they would not punt again in the first half. The second time the Packers got the ball, they drove 80 yards in 11 plays, highlighted by a 25-yard pass reception by Hornung and Paul’s eventual six-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Packers were rolling. Ray Nitschke intercepted a Y.A. Tittle pass at the Giants’ 33 and Bart Starr capitalized with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Boyd Dowler. Hank Gremminger then picked off Tittle at the Giants’ 36 and Starr capped a six-play drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ron Kramer. With time running out in the half, Starr moved the Pack downfield on a 17-yard run by Hornung and a 40-yard pass to Kramer. On the last play of the half, Hornung kicked a 17-yard field goal for a 24-0 lead.

In the second half, Hornung would kick two more field goals and Kramer would catch another touchdown pass of 13 yards to complete the scoring at 37-0.

For the game Kramer caught four passes for 80 yards and scored 12 points, while Hornung caught three for 47 yards, ran 20 times for 89 yards, and scored 19 points on one touchdown, three field goals, and four extra points.

Hornung deservedly was named MVP of this game to go with his league MVP Award for the year, and the Packers were champions for the first time since 1944.

As injuries and age took their toll in 1966, Hornung sat on the bench for the entire first Super Bowl game and watched his friend Max McGee steal the show with seven catches as a reserve. Paul was taken by New Orleans in the expansion draft in 1967, but retired instead. Losing his prodigal surrogate son Hornung brought Lombardi to tears.

Paul Hornung was a man’s man and was popular both with women and men. One reason was that he had a good sense of humor about himself. Max McGee would get off a line like, “Paul had a 43-inch chest and a 36-inch head,” and Hornung would laugh and answer in kind. The man called “goat” (short for “goat shoulders”) by his teammates was a leader the whole team admired and looked up to.

Aside from that three-year run of scoring, though, his statistics look a little skimpy. He never rushed for more than 681 yards, never caught more than 28 passes and only had about 3-1/2 years when he was at the top of his game, but he was deservedly elected to the Packers Hall of Fame in 1975. He was not selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame until his 12th time as a finalist in 1986.

He had earned it; he was an all-around football player and a winner, a champion.

Here are the Green Bay Packers players who have worn #5 over the past 50 years:

  From To AV
Curtis Burrow 1988 1988 -1
Vince Ferragamo 1986 1986 1
Willie Gillus 1987 1987 0
Paul Hornung 1957 1966 46
Don Majkowski 1987 1987 2
Next Packers Game Full schedule »
Thursday, Oct 22 Oct7:25Minnesota VikingsBuy Tickets

Tags: Green Bay Packers Paul Hornung

comments powered by Disqus