But the 1965 season was a tough one for “The Golden Boy” who struggled with injuries throughout the season that limited his effectiveness.
The Packers faced a must-win game in Week 13 against the Baltimore Colts. The Pack entered the game 9-3 while the Colts were 9-2-1. If Baltimore won the game, they would win the Western Conference crown and leave Lombardi’s Packers on the outside looking in for the third straight year. A Packers win would put them in the driver’s seat to reach the NFL Championship Game.
The good news was the Packers were getting healthy. Fuzzy Thurston was healthy and returned to start at guard. That allowed Forrest Gregg to move back from guard to tackle, which was his strongest position.
Then, Hornung was ready to play. He was rusty from not starting for weeks, but ready. Before the game, Lombardi told reporters, “I’m starting him, but I’ll be holding my breath.”
He didn’t have to worry. Hornung returned to his Hall of Fame form and came through with a five-touchdown performance to help the Packers beat the Colts in Baltimore 42-27. The fog rolled into Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and “The Golden Boy” emerged from the fog like a ghost and looked like the player he once was. Hornung gained 61 yards rushing on 15 carries and caught two passes for 115 yards. He ran for three touchdowns and caught two touchdown passes.
After the game, Lombardi explained, “I was confident Paul could do it. There was no question in my mind. There was a question in his mind, but I just had a hunch. If Hornung didn’t respond, Elijah Pitts was waiting on the bench.” Pitts wasn’t needed and carried only twice for six yards.
After the Colts took a 3-0 lead on a 14-yard Walt Michaels field goal, Hornung got to work. He gave the Packers a lead they never relinquished on a two-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
Then, he caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bart Starr to extend the lead to 14-3. Hornung was open in the left flat. Assistant coach Tom Fears explained the long pass was planned after the coaching staff scouted the Colts. “We just thought Hornung might be free,” he told reporters after the game. He was and the result was a 50-yard touchdown pass.
The turning point of the game came just before halftime, and again, Hornung played a key role. The Packers were clinging to a 14-13 lead when Colts defensive back Bob Boyd intercepted Starr and came close to returning it for a touchdown. Hornung prevented the score, forcing Boyd out of bounds at the Green Bay four. “Hornung had an angle on me, and I couldn’t get by,” Boyd said after the game.
Two plays later, Packers linebacker Dave Robinson intercepted Colts quarterback Gary Cuozzo and returned it 87 yards. “I was up tight on John Mackey,” Robinson said after the game. “On the goal line, you have to stay up close. If you loosen up, they’ll drive you right out of there. I saw Cuozzo out of the corner of my eye, and when he threw, I dropped off Mackey and played the ball. It just wasn’t quite high enough.”
Two plays later, Starr found Boyd Dowler for a 10-yard touchdown pass. The Packers led 21-13 at the half instead of trailing 20-14. They never looked back.
Hornung scored two more rushing touchdowns in the third quarter, one from nine yards out and another from three. That put the Packers ahead 35-13. The Colts scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to close to within 35-27. The Packers still led by two scores (no two-point conversion in the NFL in 1965) but the Colts had the momentum.
Then, Starr found Hornung for a 65-yard touchdown pass and put the game away. It was Hornung’s fifth touchdown of the game. He had only two touchdowns all season prior to this game.
“It was great individual effort by Bart and Paul and Jim,” guard Jerry Kramer said. “No, I take that back. It was a great effort by everyone. We had confidence in ourselves again.”
Lombardi was thrilled with his team’s performance. “We look like we are just now reaching our peak,” he told reporters. “I can’t think of a better time.”
The win put the Packers into first place although they tied the season finale in San Francisco to set up a playoff game against the Colts a week later. The Packers won that game in overtime 13-10 and then beat the Browns 23-12 to win Lombardi’s third NFL title with the Pack.
For Hornung, this was the last great regular season performance of his career. He would shine in the NFL Championship Game against the Browns, but injuries limited him to 76 carries the following season for just 200 yards. But on this day, he emerged from the fog to help the Packers beat their closest competitor for the division crown.
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