December 4, 2009

1960: Paul Hornung Breaks Scoring Record vs. Bears, on Way to Record 176

After two seasons in the NFL, it appeared that Paul Hornung was on his way to being yet another Heisman-winning bust. A star quarterback at Notre Dame, he didn’t have the arm strength or throwing accuracy to play the position in pro football – as the team that made him the first selection in the 1957 draft, the Green Bay Packers, found out. The Packers were a losing team and Hornung was underachieving while constantly being shifted between fullback, where he lacked sufficient power, and halfback, where he lacked blazing speed.

The arrival of Vince Lombardi as head coach in 1959 changed things radically for the Packers as a team and for Hornung as a player. Lombardi quickly ascertained that the 6’2”, 220-pound Hornung had the all-around ability to fill the option halfback position that Frank Gifford had played with the New York Giants, where Lombardi had coached the offense. The individual skills may have seemed lacking, but the sum of all the parts proved to be far greater than anticipated.

The Packers went from 1-10-1 in 1958 to 7-5 in ’59, and Hornung, who also handled the placekicking, led the league with 94 points. In ’60, Hornung smashed Don Hutson’s 18-year-old single season scoring record in impressive fashion and proved conclusively that, as Lombardi said, “any time he gets within the 10 yard line, he smells the goal line”.

Against the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field on December 4, Hornung put up a total of 23 points – tying his most in a game that season, and breaking Hutson’s record of 138 – in utilizing his various abilities. He kicked a 21-yard field goal in the second quarter to start the scoring, and a 41-yarder later in the period to give the Packers a 13-6 lead at the half.

Green Bay scored a total of five touchdowns, and Hornung successfully booted the extra points after each. Two of the TDs he accounted for himself – on a 17-yard pass from QB Bart Starr in the third quarter and a 10 yard run in the fourth quarter. Statistically, while FB Jim Taylor led the team in rushing (as usual) with 140 yards on 24 carries, Hornung ran the ball 14 times for 68 yards. He also caught three passes for another 32 yards.

The Packers rolled up 443 yards on offense in typically efficient fashion, with no turnovers, while the Bears lost a fumble and two interceptions (DE Willie Davis recovered the fumble for a score). The final score was 41-13 in favor of Green Bay.

The Packers, who came into the game at 5-4 after losing two straight, won three in a row to close out the regular season and topped the Western Conference with an 8-4 record. They lost the NFL Championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles. Chicago, at 5-3-1 prior to hosting Green Bay, went in the opposite direction, losing the remaining games and failing to score in either of the final two; they ended up in fifth place in the West with a 5-6-1 record.

Hornung scored a total of 176 points, which was the league record until finally broken by LaDainian Tomlinson of the Chargers 46 years later, in 2006 (and in 16 games, to Hornung’s 12). The breakdown on the scoring was: 15 touchdowns (13 rushing, 2 receiving), 15 field goals (out of 28 attempts), and 41 extra points (no misses).

As in the Bears game, his statistics didn’t dazzle – for the year he gained a respectable 671 yards on 160 carries for a 4.2-yard average gain, and caught 28 passes for 257 yards, averaging 9.2 yards. He completed 6 of 16 option passes for 118 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. But he was a unanimous first team All-NFL selection at halfback. And when it came to putting points on the board, there were few more proficient than the Golden Boy.