A Blast from the Past: A Conversation with Former Packers Quarterback Don Horn

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A Blast from the Past: A Conversation with Former Packers Quarterback Don Horn
Don Horn

The 1967 season was a magical season in the proud history of the Green Bay Packers. For one, it would be the last season that Vince Lombardi would be head coach.

The Packers were also trying to do what no team in the NFL had ever done since the playoff era started in 1933, which was to win three consecutive NFL titles.

That is exactly what the 1967 Packers did.

The season was masterfully written about in a great book called Instant Replay, which was co-authored by the late Dick Schaap and right guard Jerry Kramer of the Packers.

Before that season started, the NFL had its draft in the middle of March. The Packers had two first-round picks that year, and Lombardi, who doubled as general manager, decided to pick quarterback Don Horn from San Diego State with the second of those first-round selections.

I had an opportunity to talk to Horn recently, and we talked about some of his memories in Green Bay, including when he was drafted.

The NFL draft was quite different in 1967, compared to what it is like today. The draft took place took place two months after Super Bowl I, when the Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10. Coincidentally, Horn was at that game. More on that later.

Don first shared his thoughts when he was selected in the draft.

My coach in college was Don Coryell. My roommate for a while was Joe Gibbs, who was a graduate assistant coach. John Madden was the defensive coordinator as well. We had a pretty good season, and Oakland said they were going to draft me, the Lions said they were going to draft me, the Giants said they were going to draft me and one or two other teams said they had interest too.

Anyway, I was sitting in a little bitty room, which actually was in our public relations office there (San Diego State), and I'm just waiting for a phone call. I was listening to the draft on the radio, and a number of teams that said they were going to draft me, drafted someone else. It was getting near the end of the round, and the phone rang when Kansas City was going to make their pick. And a lady got on the phone and said "Please hold for coach Lombardi."

And by then I'm thinking that someone is jerking my chain. I mean, I hadn't heard from Green Bay at all. But back in those days, a lot of teams were in the same consortium of using scouts. Anyway, coach Lombardi came on the phone, and I still didn't believe it was really him until I heard his voice.

And he said, "Don, this is coach Lombardi. Did you sign any agreements with any other leagues?" I said no. Then he went on, "We are considering making you our draft pick. Kansas City is picking right now, and I'll get right back to you." Fifteen or 20 minutes later, he called me back and said, "You are now a Green Bay Packer. When can you get back here." So that's how it happened.

Again, the draft was two months after Super Bowl I. Don was a Los Angeles native, and he had gone to many Los Angeles Rams games in the past at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which was the sight of the first Super Bowl. Horn talked about that Super Bowl.

I was at that Super Bowl that they won. I grew up in the area, and I used to go to Rams games all the time. I would pay maybe 50 cents or a dollar to get into the Coliseum for those games. Bobby Beathard, who used to coach me for awhile in high school, was a part-time scout for the Chiefs back then, plus his brother Pete was backing up Len Dawson at quarterback, called me a week before the game. He told me he had two tickets for the Super Bowl at $12 apiece. And I went "What! I can't afford $12 dollars." But I bought two of them anyway. Now tickets like that cost $1,200. So I went to the game, and the stadium was probably two-thirds full.

Horn also talked about how he assimilated with all the great players on the Packers' roster when he arrived for training camp his rookie year.

I drive back (to Green Bay) at the end of May or the early part of June. I got there about a month earlier than I need to be there (for training camp). That impressed coach Lombardi a lot. And also a lot of the players that lived in Green Bay because I came there early to work out.

I slowly started to get accepted and respected by my peers. A certain degree of that was done on the practice field, and also how I handled myself off the practice field and away from the game. You really don't earn your stripes until you get on the field during a real game. Bart (Starr) took me out a couple of times to meet and greet and have dinner and to meet some of the players. Coach Lombardi was totally business all the time.

Packers fans can remember two games that Horn played in his Packer career where he really earned his stripes. One was the last game of the 1968 season, when the Packers faced the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field.

The Packers were already eliminated form the NFL Central division race and had a 5-7-1 record going into the game. The Bears, on the other hand, were 7-6, and a win would give them the NFL Central title.

Don Horn

Horn remembered how his chance to play in that game was so unexpected.

I got out of the Army about 10 days before the game. I missed pretty much the whole season because I was in the service. So I got up there and practiced with the team a little bit with the team the week before.

I had a reserve meeting that Saturday night in Milwaukee. I got out of the reserve meeting around 11:00 and I drove down to Chicago, and I think we were staying at the Drake Hotel. I went in there about 2:30 in the morning. My roommate was Ron Kostelnik.

Anyway, get up the next morning and went down to the team breakfast. And Lombardi is there and he was still the general manager of the team and is pulling the strings. He tells, "I'm thinking of having you suit up today." Bart had broken ribs, so I was going to be the third-string quarterback. Zeke (Bratkowski) started the game but got hurt and he had to be carried off the field.

Billy Stevens was the other quarterback. Billy started throwing the ball on the sideline getting ready to go into the game. Just then, I think it was coach Schnelker who said, "Horn, get in there." The first series I struggled, and it seemed like Dick Butkus and company knew exactly what I was doing. The next series it got better. I remember I called one play, and Boyd Dowler says, "You can't call that play here, it won't work." And I said, "It's the only play I can remember, ready break." And I threw a 67-yard touchdown pass to Jim Grabowski on the play.

When the game was over, the Packers had beaten the Bears 28-27. Horn ended up throwing for 187 yards, plus had two touchdown passes without throwing a pick. No. 13's quarterback rating for that game was 142.4.

Then came the 1969 season. Horn started five games that year, with the Packers winning four of those games. The game that everyone remembers was the last game of the season versus the St. Louis Cardinals at Lambeau Field.

It was also Willie Davis' day that particular game, as No. 87 had announced that he was retiring after the season.

The Packers whipped the Cardinals in that game, 45-28. Horn had a fantastic performance, as he threw for 410 yards and also threw five touchdown passes. At the time, Horn was the first quarterback of the Packers to ever throw for more than 400 passing yards.

Don reflected on that game.

Bob Schnelker had a great game plan. And back then, you called your own plays. Everything just worked. I would call the right plays at just the right time. Great game plan by Schnelker. Great execution by the offense. I was on cloud nine. Everything was clicking and were were on all cylinders. Everything fell into place.

1970 was not a particularly good year for Horn or the Packers, and the team fired head coach Phil Bengtson after the season and hired coach Dan Devine.

Horn had a conversation with Devine about a week before the 1971 NFL draft, telling him he was happy in Green Bay and wanted to get his contract situation resolved and was looking forward to working with the former Missouri head coach. Devine seemed pleased with the discussion and told Horn he would fly him into Green Bay after the draft to get a new contract done.

But on the morning of the draft, Horn received a phone call from Devine. In a very short conversation to the best of Horn's recollection, Devine said this, "Don, this is coach Devine. I'm just calling you to let you know that I just traded you to the Denver Broncos. Good luck."

That was the end of Horn's career in Green Bay.

But Don had many great memories in Green Bay, both as a player and a bystander. If you take a good look at the the film of the legendary "Ice Bowl" game at Lambeau Field for the 1967 NFL championship, Horn stood right next to coach Lombardi the entire game.

After the game-winning quarterback sneak by Starr, behind a great block by Jerry Kramer, look at the reaction on the sideline. Lombardi raises his arms to signal touchdown, and it was Horn who was the first player to congratulate the coach who now has his name on the Super Bowl trophy.

Horn reflected on his time in Green Bay, and he realizes what a great experience it had been.

I wouldn't trade my time in Green Bay for anything in the world. I feel very fortunate to be in that great era of the '60s and to be part of that great team. There were a lot of great characters on that team. Ray Nitschke. Willie Wood. Herb Adderley. Robby (Dave Robinson). Lee Roy Caffey. Bart (Starr). Forrest Gregg. Jerry Kramer. A great bunch of ball players, who also had great character.

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