Pres. Kennedy assisted Packers in beating Giants for 1961 NFL title
President John F. Kennedy, Packers Bart Starr (15) and Paul Hornung (5) in the 1961 NFL Championship Game. | Photos: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel archives
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GREEN BAY - The Packers and Giants have a long, storied postseason rivalry, including one game where the President of the United States apparently did some arm-twisting of the Army to give the Packers a boost in winning an NFL title.
In 1961, Uncle Sam asked three Green Bay Packers to do something for their country - serve in the Army.
Wide receiver Boyd Dowler and linebacker Ray Nitschke had no problem getting time off from Fort Lewis, Washington to play for Green Bay.
But for Paul Hornung, a two-time league MVP, getting out of Fort Riley in Kansas to play in the NFL title game on New Years' Eve against the Giants proved to be a big problem.
"The championship game was going to be in the two-week time that I was going to be in Fort Riley, Kansas," explained Hornung, whose superiors had pre-determined a different two-week break for him around Christmas.
"I asked if I could get it changed, and they said no, I couldn't. I had to call (Coach Vince Lombardi) and tell him I couldn't make the game."
Hornung told Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Jay Sorgi that Lombardi had a connection he could possibly pull to get Hornung out of an army uniform and in a Packers uniform for the championship showdown.
"When I told him that, he said, 'You just stay put, I'm going to get back to you. I've got a number to call.' "
It was the number to a certain commander-in-chief, President John F. Kennedy.
Lombardi had helped President John F. Kennedy in winning the 1960 Wisconsin primary.
Hornung says Kennedy gave Lombardi his personal phone number at the White House, and he was free to call the President if he ever needed a favor.
Lombardi cashed in on that favor.
"He called (Kennedy) and asked if he could help out, and he did. He called Ft. Riley, Kansas himself, 'to see if we could switch Hornung's vacation so he'd be able to come to Green Bay.' "
Hornung joined Army mates Dowler and Nitschke in dominating the NFL Championship Game.
The three Packers were the key pieces in an explosive 24-point second quarter.
Both Dowler and Hornung scored touchdowns, while Hornung kicked for six more points on a field goal and three extra points, and Nitschke intercepted a Y.A. Tittle pass.
Dowler and Hornung combined for 25 points on the day, while Nitschke and company shut down and shut out Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle and the Giants offense.
"We could have won that game, 77-0," claimed Hornung.
Instead, they won 37-0, thanks to three men who served their country while serving the Packers, and the President who freed one of them to play in the game.