Sunday, December 28, 2008

Paul Hornung: Worst Kicker Ever

Paul Hornung. The Golden Boy. Heisman Trophy Winner. The NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1961. A key member of the 1960’s Packers Dynasty. A Hall-of-Famer. A degenerate gambler. An utterer of controversial racial comments. A man who drops his pants his public. And someone who hit on my mom at Gulfstream Park back in the early 1980’s. Since my mother was able to rebuff the Golden Boy’s unwanted lecherous advances, let’s concentrate on what’s really important to this website, his NFL career. Or at least one aspect of it.

Hornung was one of the great all-around players in NFL history. He ran, caught, passed, kicked and punted for Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. But it’s the placekicking I’m most interested in. Clearly Hornung was incredibly valuable if he could serve as both his team’s halfback and kicking specialist. But to make his saving of a roster spot worthwhile of course he had to be an effective kicker. Was he?

Well, Horning served at the Packers’ main placekicker from 1958 through 1961. Here are his field goal percentages for each season with his NFL rank in parenthesis

1958: 52.4 (2)
1959: 41.2 (9)
1960: 53.6 (8)
1961: 68.2 (2)

So half the time Hornung was excellent and the other half he was below average (the NFL only had 12-14 teams during this time). In 1962, Hornung connected on 6 out of 10 FG’s but missed much of the season due to a leg injury and right guard Jerry Kramer was pressed into service. Kramer was sensational, nailing 9 of 11 and then hitting 3 more in horrific weather conditions in the 1962 NFL Championship Game. The Pack won 16-7. Horning missed all of the 1963 season due to his infamous gambling problem so Kramer handled all the kicking that year. He fell back to earth, hitting only 16 of 34 field goals, so Lombardi handed the job back to Horning in 1964. And Horning responded with what I believe to be the single worst season any NFL kicker has ever had.

Check it out. If Lombardi thought Kramer was bad in ’63, what about the Golden Boy in 1964? That year Hornung set an NFL record that may never be broken. He missed 26 field goals. Yeah, 26!!!!!!! 12-of-38. How is that even possible? How could a coach as great as Vince Lombardi, how could any coach ever, keep sending out a guy that ineffective? Once a guy gets to, I don’t know, 20, wouldn’t that be time for some kicking tryouts?

Hornung did at least execute most of his extra points correctly, making 41 of 43 (but oh those two misses). The field goal stats are themselves bad enough, but I found an interesting piece about the Packers' 1964 season here at JS Online. Reading it ought to convince anybody Hornung's 1964 season was the worst season any kicker's ever had. It convinced me. Horning didn’t just miss a lot of kicks, he missed critical kicks that probably cost his team a shot at yet another NFL championship. Here's a list of Hornung's kicking "accomplishments" of 1964:

Week Two: Hornung misses an extra point against the Colts. Packers lose by one.

Week Four: Packers lose to Vikings 24-23. Hornung has an extra point try blocked allowing Vikings to win with a late FG.

Week Six: Hornung missed 5, count ‘em 5, field goals! Up 21-17 late, Hornung missed his final kick of the day, a 47-yarder that the Colts returned 36 yards. They scored a TD with just over a minute left to beat the Packers 24-21.

Week Seven: Hornung misses two FG's against the Rams. The Rams return the second miss 94 yards for the go-ahead touchdown and beat the Pack 27-17 after trailing 17-0. The loss drops Green Bay to 3-4, three games behind the Colts.

Week Ten: Hornung misses three field goals and has another blocked. The Packers and Rams tie 24-24.

Wow. The Packers wound up 8-5-1, their worst season since 1959, Lombardi's first year as coach. Hornung’s misses helped his team lose four times and tie once. The misses in those Colts games were particularly brutal as each head-to-head matchup represented a two-game swing in the standings. The Colts finished at 12-2 to take the Western Conference title and earn a spot in the 1964 NFL Championship Game (they lost). The Pack came in second but had they swept the Colts Green Bay would have won the conference by half a game and played for the title. Having had enough, Lombardi brought in a legitimate kicker, Don Chandler, to handle the job in 1965. It might not be a coincidence that Green Bay went on to win championships in 1965, 1966 and 1967 with Chandler.

If you brought Hornung in to try a field goal for you odds are he missed it; his career field goal percentage was a far from impressive 47.1%. You can’t take away his many contributions to a number of championship teams, but for at least one season the Golden Boy was the single worst kicker in NFL history.

By the way Paul, my mother’s available.

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