Pivotal Pro Football Moments
pivotal NFL postseason moment: A decision by a coach or an action by a player that changes the momentum of a playoff game.
1961: Soldiers Spark Green Bay
1961 NFL Championship Game: New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers
As the chased instead of the upstart, Vince Lombardi pushed his defending West Divi­sion champion Packers even more in 1961 after losing to the Eagles in the 1960 title game. The result was an 11-3 record and a 2 1/2 game margin over the Detroit Lions.
Lombardi might have ruled his team with an iron hand, but he couldn't control interna­tional affairs. When the Soviets constructed the Berlin wall late that summer, President John Kennedy activated thousands of military reservists and national guardsman. Three Packers received their call-up notices in October: HB Paul Hornung, WR Boyd Dowler, and LB Ray Nitschke.
Vince contacted Pentagon officials to get them to grant deferments to Hornung and Nitschke as "critical members of the team." Fans all over Wisconsin wrote letters on behalf of their heroes. With the Cuban Missile Crisis looming, the Pen­tagon brass couldn't justify de­ferring football players. However, Hornung got a break by being stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas where the commanding officer was a friend of Lombardi from the days when Vince coached at West Point. So he approved Paul being allowed to join his other team on Sun­days providing it did not interfere with his military duties. So the triple-threat halfback play­ed in 12 of the 14 games. With his kicking ability, he led the NFL in scoring to win the league MVP award. Nitschke also missed two games while Dowler took the field in all 14.

L-R: Vince Lombardi, Paul Hornung, Ray Nitschke, Boyd Dowler
As the Packers prepared for the title game, they received the good news that all three of their army callups would be in the lineup. Hornung was able to play thanks to intervention from on high. Let Paul tell the story from his autobiography: "I was supposed to begin a six-day leave the Tuesday after the championship game. I asked my captain if I could switch the leave to December 27-January 3 so I'd be able to play in the NFL title game. Much to my surprise, the SOB said no. I immediately called Lombardi and told him we had a problem. He listened, then said, 'Let me make a phone call and I'll call you back in twenty minutes.' When he called back, he said, 'I think your captain is about ready to get a phone call that will get you off to play.' Damned if he hadn't called President Kennedy. Sure enough, the captain got an imme­diate call from the White House. At first, he didn't believe it was really JFK on the line. Heck, everybody was impersonating Kennedy's Massachu­setts accent back then. But when it dawned on the captain that it was, indeed, Ken­nedy, it wasn't long before Pri­vate Hornung was on his way to Green Bay to play in the champion­ship on December 31."
Hornung practiced with the team from Tuesday on. Paul said his weight, which had been 218 at the start of the season, had dropped to 202 while in the service but had been beefed up to 212. Dowler and Nitschke were also on Army leave, giving Lombardi his full squad for practice for the first time in eight weeks.
The sun shone brightly, but the temperature rose to only 20° by the 1 PM kickoff with an 11mph wind.

Erich Barnes interferes with Boyd Dowler.
The defenses prevailed through the scoreless first period, but the Packers finally got a march going in the final minutes. QB Bart Starr looped a swing pass to Hornung, who burst 26y to midfield. Looking quick and confident after his longest practice stint with the squad in months, Paul zipped through a hole at left tackle to the Giants 45. FB Jimmy Taylor and Hornung took turns carrying the leather to the 20. Starr then threw down the middle to Dowler at the 7, but LHB Erich Barnes hit the receiver early - interference. The Giants finally slowed down the advance when they stopped Taylor for no gain as the peri­od ended.
Hornung took the handoff on a crossbuck over right tackle into the end zone to culmi­nate the beautiful 80y march. Packers 7 Giants 0 (14:56)

Hornung scores the first touchdown.
On the Giants' next possession, DT Henry Jordan deflected QB Y. A. Tittle's pass, and the ball went into the hands of MLB Ray Nitschke, who was downed on the 34. The Pack­ers capitalized on the turnover for their second touchdown, which came when Starr threw a beautiful bullet into the outstretched hands of Dowler streak­ing across from his right end position on his way to the end zone. TV announcer Lindsey Nel­son pointed out that Green Bay could thank the U.S. Army for the touchdown as Nitschke made the interception to start the march and Dowler scored it - both on leave from Fort Lewis (WA). Packers 14 Giants 0 (10:41)
Another interception put the Packers back in business in NY territory again, and the lead ballooned to 21-0 on Starr's 15y pass to TE Ron Kramer. Green Bay added three points on Hornung's 17y field goal on the last play of the half. Packers 24 Giants 0

Cliff Livingston tackles Hornung.
The only suspense was whether the Giants would score. The answer was no. They pen­etrated Green Bay territory ony once in the second half but got no further than the 30.
Meanwhile, the Packers took advantage of a bobbled punt to set up Hornung's 22y field goal to make it 27-0 with 5:05 left in the third quarter.
Green Bay soon had the ball at the NY 43 after a punt and a 15y penalty. Starr hit Dowler on first down at the 32. After Hornung gained six, Bart threw a down-and-out to 6'5" Dowler who got his feet inbounds at the 13. Two snaps later, Starr connected with Kramer again for a touchdown. Packers 34 Giants 0 (2:48)
Hornung booted another three-pointer in the fourth quarter to give him 19 points for the day, a championship game record as the Packers took advantage of a bobbled punt to set up a 22-yarder to make it 37-0 (8:12).
Paul won a 1962 Chevrolet Corvette from Sport magazine as the Most Valuable Player of the game. Lombardi praised his Golden Boy. "The bigger the game, the tougher he plays." "This is the greatest day in my life," said Paul. When reminded he had won the Heisman Trophy, he shook his head. "That was five years ago. This was today."