December 12, 2011
For Paul Hornung (pictured at right), the Green Bay halfback known as the Golden Boy, the best days of his career appeared to be far behind as the Packers traveled to Baltimore to take on the Colts in a key Western Conference showdown on December 12, 1965. Once a key point producer for Head Coach Vince Lombardi’s team as a runner and placekicker, injuries and a one-year suspension that cost him the 1963 season had rendered him an afterthought.
Hornung had lost his placekicking job after a mediocre 1964 season and, in the three weeks before the game in Baltimore, had been benched in favor of HB Elijah Pitts. He had scored three TDs all season and there was speculation that he would be exposed to the Atlanta Falcons in the expansion draft for the ’66 season. However, early in the week of the game Lombardi told him he would be back in the starting lineup.
Green Bay came into the contest with a 9-3 record, a half-game behind the 9-2-1 Colts. The Packers won the first encounter between the two clubs at home in Week 2 on the way to breaking out to a 6-0 start, but had faltered with back-to-back losses to the Bears and Lions and then were ambushed by the Rams in Los Angeles two weeks earlier.
The Colts, under Head Coach Don Shula and the defending Western Conference champions, had won eight straight games since the loss in Green Bay, even weathering an injury to their star quarterback, Johnny Unitas, that caused him to sit out for a game. However, following a tie against the Lions, Unitas suffered a knee injury against the Bears that knocked him out for good. Chicago shut the Colts out and now the quarterback who was considered to be the best in the game would be watching this contest while propped on crutches. Backup Gary Cuozzo drew the start at quarterback, and he had already led the club to a win over the Vikings when called upon earlier in the year in which he tossed five TD passes.
There were 60,238 fans in attendance at Memorial Stadium, as well as a national television audience, on a foggy day that made it difficult for fans both at the stadium and watching on tv to follow the ball. The Colts scored first on a 14-yard field goal by Lou Michaels following an intercepted pass by CB Lenny Lyles that was returned to the Green Bay 11.
The Packers scored the next two times they had the ball, both on Hornung touchdowns. The first came on a two-yard run over right guard that capped a six-play, 80-yard drive and the second on a 50-yard pass play. Green Bay was ahead by 14-3 after one period of play.
The Colts fought back in the second quarter. First, Michaels kicked another field goal, this time from 45 yards. Then Pitts fumbled when hit hard returning the ensuing kickoff and the Colts recovered. HB Lenny Moore scored on a three-yard touchdown run that, with the extra point, put Baltimore just a point behind at 14-13.
In the final minute of the first half, the Colts seemed to have all the momentum and appeared ready to take the lead. They had first-and-goal on the Green Bay four yard line after Packers FB Jim Taylor fumbled and CB Bob Boyd recovered and ran 17 yards. On second down at the two, Cuozzo dropped back and threw toward FB Jerry Hill but LB Dave Robinson (pictured below), reading the play correctly, reached up, intercepted the pass, and proceeded to run 87 yards to the Baltimore 10. QB Bart Starr threw to flanker Boyd Dowler for a touchdown on the next play. It was the turning point of the game - instead of the Colts being in front at halftime, it was Green Bay holding an increased lead of 21-13.
In the third quarter, Hornung scored twice more, on a nine-yard sweep to the left and a three-yard carry. Meanwhile, Cuozzo, who had been struggling throughout the game, suffered a shoulder injury in the third quarter and had to briefly come out, with HB Tom Matte, the team’s emergency quarterback, taking his place and tossing an interception along with two incomplete passes.
Cuozzo returned to the contest and nearly brought the Colts from behind in the fourth quarter. Down 35-13, Hill scored on a one-yard touchdown carry and then Cuozzo tossed a five-yard TD pass to split end Raymond Berry that narrowed Green Bay’s margin to 35-27. However, Starr threw to Hornung out of the backfield on a play that covered 65 yards, 50 of it by the halfback running down the field through the fog for a touchdown. It was Hornung’s fifth TD of the game and finished off the Colts. The Packers won by a final score of 42-27 and moved a half-game ahead in the conference race.
Hornung’s five touchdowns set a club record, and on a day of superlative performances that included Gale Sayers scoring six TDs for the Bears.
Green Bay outgained the Colts (366 yards to 264) although Baltimore led in first downs (21 to 18). The Packers had the better-balanced attack, with 222 passing and 144 rushing yards, while Baltimore, thanks to suffering losses on four sacks (to none given up by Green Bay), had 190 through the air and 74 on 24 running plays. Both teams turned the ball over three times.
Paul Hornung rushed for 61 yards on 15 carries that included three touchdowns and had the two big catches that covered 115 yards and resulted in a pair of TDs. Jim Taylor led the Packers in rushing with 17 attempts for 66 yards. Bart Starr completed 10 of 17 passes for 222 yards with three TDs and one interception. Boyd Dowler caught 4 passes for 40 yards and a touchdown.
For the Colts, Gary Cuozzo went to the air 38 times and completed 20 for 212 yards with a TD and two interceptions. Raymond Berry had an outstanding game in defeat as he hauled in 10 catches for 125 yards and a score. Lenny Moore paced the ground game with 42 yards on 15 carries with a TD.
Said Vince Lombardi of his decision to start Hornung, “It was a hunch – but Hornung’s a pressure player.” The hunch paid off well on this occasion.
Of the key interception in the second quarter, Don Shula called it “a bad decision on Gary’s part. He should have just rammed in there with two yards to go and plenty of time.”
“It wasn’t that bad a call, it was bad execution,” responded Cuozzo.
“It was one of those things,” said Hornung of Robinson’s interception. “A half inch and he's a hero. If Robinson had gone with the flow of the play it would have worked. But Robinson was there waiting.”
Green Bay’s win over the Colts did not prove to be quite as decisive as it appeared to be at the time, and the two clubs were not yet done with each other. Needing a win in the season finale to clinch the Western Conference, the Packers were tied by the 49ers. The Colts, with Cuozzo as well as Unitas finished for the year, went with Tom Matte at quarterback in their final game and beat the Rams, 20-17. Both clubs thus completed the regular season at 10-3-1, necessitating a playoff game. In a defensive battle that went into overtime at Lambeau Field, Green Bay won by a 13-10 score and went on to defeat the Cleveland Browns in the NFL Championship game.
Hornung also played well in the title game and was back with the Packers in 1966. In a reserve role, he rushed for 200 yards and caught 14 passes, but nagging injuries became more of an issue. Exposed in the 1967 expansion draft, he was taken by the New Orleans Saints but retired during training camp. For all intents and purposes, the late-season heroics in 1965 provided the capstone on the Golden Boy’s Hall of Fame career.