When Mason Crosby hit on just 63.6% of his field goal attempts (21 of 33) in 2012, it was surprising that he didn’t lose his job as the Packers’ placekicker. 48 years before, though, Packer fans would have rejoiced at such numbers, and the team may have ridden such a performance to the NFL championship game.
In 1964, of course, Paul Hornung returned from a one-year suspension for gambling. In his first six seasons, Hornung made 53% of his field goal attempts (54 of 102). Compared to the league’s 49.9%, Paul was six-percent above average as a kicker. After the layoff, Hornung converted just 12 of 38 field goal attempts in 1964. He was 3 of 7 from under 20 yards, five of nine from 20-29 yards, 1 of 10 from 30-39 and 3 of 12 from 40 yards and beyond.
Hornung’s kicking that year is the worst performance in the 1960s by a kicker on a winning team (minimum 20 attempts). These are the six closest kicking failures on winning teams in that decade:
1961 Bears (8-6) Roger LeClerc 10/24 41.7%
1961 Giants (10-3-1) Pat Summerall 14/34 41.7%
1962 Lions (11-3) Wayne Walker 9/22 40.9%
1965 Bears (9-5) Roger LeClerc 11/26 42.3%
1966 Browns (9-5) Lou Groza 9/23 39.1%
1966 ?? Team (12-2) Mystery Man 12/28 42.9%
But Lombardi had no other options in 1964. Backup kicker Jerry Kramer who had made 9 of 11 field goals in 1962 and 16 of 34 in 1963 missed virtually the entire season due to abdominal surgery. Kickoff man Willie Wood tried his only NFL field goal in a week five win over the 49ers, but missed from 32 yards.
Let’s take a look at the games that cost Green Bay a shot at another title. The season had a promising start when the Packers knocked off the Bears 23-12 on opening day, with Hornung going 3 of 5 in field goals, including a career best 52-yard shot. That 52 yarder, though was on an uncontested attempt following a Packer fair catch on a punt at midfield right before the half.
In week two, Green Bay lost to Baltimore at home 21-20, despite outgaining the Colts 308-261. The difference was a missed extra point by Hornung. To be fair, the Packers were driving in the closing minutes, but Bart Starr was picked off by linebacker Don Shinnick at the Colt 25 to end their last drive. That should have been a tie.
In week four, another Hornung missed extra point contributed to a 24-23 loss to the Vikings. This game also should have ended as a tie.
In the week six rematch with Baltimore, Green Bay outgained the Colts 401 to 258 but lost 24-21, largely due to Hornung’s 0-5 field goal record. He missed from 17, 33, 46, 47 and one unknown distance. His final attempt came with the Packers leading 21-17 with two minutes to go. Paul’s 47-yard attempt was blocked by Billy Ray Smith and returned to the Green Bay 34 by Jerry Logan. Johnny Unitas then led the Colts to the winning touchdown, but had Hornung hit on two of his shorter field goals, Green Bay would have won 27-24 and ended up 1-0-1 rather than 0-2 against their chief rivals.
In week seven against the Rams, Green Bay blew a 17-0 lead. Hornung missed from 21 and had a 36 yarder blocked and returned for a 94-yard touchdown, but this game stays as a loss. Likewise, a week ten 24-14 loss to San Francisco remains a loss, despite featuring Hornung misses from 17, 38, 43 and a blocked kick from 35 in an 0-4 performance. A perfect conversion rate is too much to expect.
Finally, in week 14, the Packers were tied by the lowly Rams 24-24, and Hornung missed three of four field goals. One more gives the team another win.
Adding up the converted losses and ties gives the Packers a 10-2-2 record and drops the Colts to 10-3-1. Hornung’s awful kicking cost the team a chance to face off for the title against the Browns in Cleveland.
And who was that mystery man in the table above? Check my next post in a couple of days for the follow up to this story.
(Custom Cards feature 1961 Topps, 1963 Topps and Diamond Kings Style cards)