SI Vault
Tex Maule
September 21, 1964
It was not just an opening game for Paul Hornung—his first in two years. It was a game against the Bears, a team that had beaten the Packers twice in 1963, and in it Hornung had to reestablish his worth
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
September 21, 1964

Shining Hour For Golden Boy

It was not just an opening game for Paul Hornung—his first in two years. It was a game against the Bears, a team that had beaten the Packers twice in 1963, and in it Hornung had to reestablish his worth

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

It rained for most of the week before the game, but the Packers enjoy working in the rain. "You keep your hat on all the time, and you can't hear the coaches yelling at you," a player said. "It gives you a sense of privacy. We don't get that very often."

Hornung was one of the few who did not like the rain much. The field at Green Bay's City Stadium had been resodded three weeks before, and it was still mushy. Since Hornung is both a runner and a kicker, a mushy field hurts him. He tested it Friday, found the footing soft and shook his head.

"You get knees on a field like this," he said. "You can't cut. You can't feel anything running, and trying to kick a Held goal out of turf like this is like trying to hit a wood out of the rough. It's too soft. You can't feel the ball."

Coach Lombardi told the Green Bay groundkeeper that it was the worst field in the NFL, and the groundkeeper, a pudgy, middle-aged man, ducked his head and said it would be all right for the game. The rains had stopped and a spanking breeze was blowing and he thought it would dry out and get hard, and when Lombardi told him to roll it with a steamroller to pack it down, the groundkeeper said the steamroller would put waves in the field.

"It's wavy as a ribbon now," Lombardi said. "I want it hard." "It will be hard," the groundkeeper said stubbornly. Oddly, the Packers were not tense before this game. Hornung, carrying a double burden—coming back after a year's suspension to prove to himself and the rest of the world that he could do it, and lifting the team, as well—was relaxed and happy and confident. "Vinnie told me I'd have to take a lot of conversation from the stands and from the players on the other clubs," he said. "I haven't had to take any so far, the only thing I've had from the other players—on other teams—is a welcome home. Rick Casares on the Bears went out of his way to tell me he was glad I was back and to wish me luck. So did Dave Whit-sell on the Bears. And a couple of others on other clubs. And the people in the stands have been real friendly. I'm glad. I don't hear the stands much anyway—there's too much noise to hear one guy yelling at you, but as far as I know, no one has yelled at me yet. I'm lucky."

The Packer team takes its cues from Hornung, a natural leader. He was free and easy in practice and so was the team. Maybe they remembered the week before the second Bear game last year, when Chicago murdered them in Chicago 26-7. They have seen movies of the game at least a hundred times since, and it would be surprising if they had forgotten it. In the week before that game they were grim and determined and their workout on Friday was a violent one. On the Friday before this game they laughed a good deal. Once Jim Taylor, the remarkably muscled fullback, went deep for a pass, turned his head just in time, and caught it. "Way to go, Iron Head," Hornung yelled.

"Now you've quit isometrics, you can turn your head," Lombardi said to Taylor, grinning. Lombardi is not much for grinning two days before an important game. Later Taylor swung wide on a power sweep, a play he and Hornung run superbly well. It is the force of the Green Bay offense. On this occasion Taylor swung out and threw a pass. It was a wobbly, slow pass that fell far short. Coming back to the huddle, Max McGee, the spread end, said, "Duck season has opened early. That one fluttered." Hornung said: "Looked like a duck shot getting off the water—but I never saw a duck fly that slow."

Dressing after the practice, Hornung smiled when Guard Fred Thurston walked by. Thurston slapped Hornung on the shoulder and posed briefly with his chest out. He leads Hornung and Taylor on the power sweeps and much of the success of their runs depends upon the blocking of Thurston and his running mate at guard, Jerry Kramer. "Fred C. Thurston," Fuzzy said, tapping himself on his chest. "God's gift to Paul Hornung." Hornung laughed easily. "You are right, baby," he said. "So right."

Jerry Kramer came into the dressing room, moving slowly and with evident pain. He had not been at practice; the night before he had been hit by a severe pain in his chest, and this morning, while the rest of the team worked, he had been at the hospital trying to find out what was wrong. He walked over to Hornungs locker, and Hornung's face grew serious. "How you feel, baby?" he said.

"It still hurts. They shot me with novocain, but it still hurts," Kramer said.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4