- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Watching one of the NFL’s oldest records get broken is, for some of us, like a death in the family. In the case of Paul Hornung’s mark of 176 points in a season, currently under assault by the Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson, what’s being buried is the memory of the multipurpose player, once plentiful in pro football but now virtually extinct.

After all, when Hornung accumulated all those points for the Packers in 1960, he didn’t just score an avalanche of touchdowns the way Tomlinson has. In addition to his 15 TDs, which tied for the league lead, he also kicked 15 field goals (second most in the league) and 41 extra points (ditto). And he did all that, let’s not forget, in a 12-game season. Through 12 games this year, Tomlinson had 156 points — 20 fewer than the “Golden Boy.”

With his next touchdown, though, his 30th, L.T. will bump Hornung to No. 2 on the all-time list. So it goes in the NFL. Long ago, the league decided that, for record-keeping purposes, a season is a season, regardless of its length. That’s why the mark for rushing yards in a season belongs to Eric Dickerson (2,105/131.6 per game) and not O.J. Simpson (2,003, 143.1). The fact that Dickerson played in two more games is just a minor detail to the NFL.

It’s puzzling why so much attention has been paid to Tomlinson’s pursuit of the touchdown record. I mean, the mark has been broken almost annually in recent years, four times since 2000. Marshall Faulk (26) borrowed it for a while, then Priest Holmes (27), then — just last season — the Seahawks’ Shaun Alexander (28) and now L.T. Granted, LaDainian might put it out of reach if he keeps scoring two or three TDs a game, but Hornung’s record, because of its longevity, is by far the bigger prize.

Only a handful of NFL marks of any consequence are older. Ernie Nevers’ 40 points in a game (1929) is one. Night Train Lane’s 14 interceptions in a season (1952) is another. But that only hints at how remarkable Hornung’s 1960 was. Consider:

• He shattered the previous record (138 by Green Bay’s Don Hutson in 1942) by 38 points.

• In two games, he did all of his team’s scoring.

• In two others, he racked up 23 points (two touchdowns, two field goals and five PATs against both the 49ers and Bears).

• In yet another game, he rallied the Packers from a 21-0 deficit to a 24-24 tie by scoring two TDs, a field goal and three PATs. (Alas, they lost to the Colts 38-24.)

• In yet another game, he had two touchdowns, a field goal, four PATs and also threw for a score as the Pack wiped out a 30-10 deficit and pulled ahead 31-30. (Alas, they lost that one to the Rams 33-31.)

• He scored at least five points in every game and only twice scored fewer than 10. (Tomlinson, by contrast, got shut out two weeks in a row earlier this season.)

• He accounted for 53 percent of Green Bay’s points. (Tomlinson has scored 40.9 of San Diego’s this year.)

No matter how you weigh these things, it was one of the greatest seasons in pro football history. And it helped Green Bay, under second-year coach Vince Lombardi, reach the NFL championship game. Norm Van Brocklin, who retired after quarterbacking the Eagles to the title, was the sentimental choice for league MVP, but no player did more for his club than Hornung.

Hornung was a football player in the classic, triple-threat sense. He could run, pass (he won the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame as a quarterback) and kick. There isn’t much call for such versatility today, but in the 1960s — the era of 38-man rosters — it was very much in vogue. Hornung was one of several position players who doubled as kickers, and a number of quarterbacks, including Van Brocklin, punted.

Soon, however, specialization took hold of football, and guys like Hornung fell by the wayside. Nowadays, a player is only required to walk or chew gum, never both.

No one would ever suggest that Hornung was in Tomlinson’s class as a running back; for starters, he never rushed for more than 681 yards in a year. Heck, L.T. had more 100-yard rushing games in November (four) than Paul did in his entire career (two). But for one incredible season …

The last time Hornung carried the ball in the NFL was against the Bears on Oct. 16, 1966. It was a goal-line play from the Chicago 1, and linebacker Doug Buffone popped him pretty good — so good that Hornung blacked out briefly and experienced temporary paralysis in his left arm. The pinched nerve in his neck was clearly getting worse.

Two months later, he told the Chicago Tribune, “The arm has been shrinking because of lack of use. I haven’t had any mobility. I can’t catch the ball if it is thrown to a certain spot because I can’t get my arm up.”

After the season, he put away his pads and went into broadcasting. In 1986 he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Oh, and that goal-line play? He scored, of course. That was what Paul Hornung did.

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