On his way to setting a new Green Bay Packers franchise record with six touchdown passes in the final game of the regular season, Matt Flynn first tied that record with a fifth scoring toss.
“Flynn now joins an exclusive group in Packers history,” play-by-play man Thom Brennaman said the FOX telecast. “He ties the mark held by Lynn Dickey, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Don Horn.”
Packers fans figured Dickey, from the pass-happy, go-go teams of the 1980s would be on the list along with Green Bay’s last two quarterbacks. But Don Horn?
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“I wasn’t able to see the game because we live in Colorado and it’s not one of their prime games,” said Horn, 66, from his home in Colorado Springs. “I started getting e-mails, text messages and phone calls from people, especially in the Midwest, telling me my name had been mentioned.”
It is a name not often mentioned alongside the mythical figures who have played for this storied franchise. Only the most avid and AARP-subscribing members of Green and Gold Nation can recall Horn, an All-American quarterback at San Diego State whom the Packers selected with the 25th overall pick in the 1967 draft.
Horn had the misfortune of playing behind Bart Starr and Zeke Bratkowski for most of his stay in Wisconsin (1967-70) but did make five starts during the 1969 season, including on a late December afternoon when he threw those five touchdown passes against the St. Louis Cardinals at Lambeau Field.
“Bart was hurt that year,” recalled Horn who said he remembers it was a typical winter day in northeast Wisconsin (wind chill of 4 degrees at kickoff) and that the game didn’t start very well. “One of our first drives we had Perry Williams, he fumbled the ball and (Cardinals all-pro safety) Larry Wilson picked it up and ran (88 yards) for a touchdown.
“I remember chasing Larry. For every step I took he took a step and a half.”
But for the rest of the game, the Cardinals were chasing Horn, who threw a 7-yard TD pass to Boyd Dowler in the first quarter, a 43-yard TD to Dowler and a 12-yard strike to Travis Williams in the second quarter and two scoring tosses to Carroll Dale in the second half.
“It was just one of those afternoons where everything seemed to click,” Horn said. “One of those Sundays where everything goes right. I had some where nothing goes right.”
Horn finished the day having completed 22 of 31 passes for 410 yards and five touchdowns, setting two Packers Lambeau Field records. He became the first quarterback to throw for more than 400 yards and the first to toss for five touchdowns in a single game.
And he could have established an even loftier aerial standard.
“They took me out in the fourth quarter,” Horn said. “They put in a kid named Billy Stevens who had been there all year and hadn’t played, so they got him some playing time. Who knows what could have happened? Everything was clicking. Heck, I was just so happy. It was just a great day (the Packers won 45-28) for everybody.”
Horn, hampered by knee and shoulder injuries, threw only 20 touchdown passes in his eight-year NFL career. He played with Denver, Cleveland and San Diego after leaving the Packers but won a championship ring with the Super Bowl II team in 1967.
“A lot of people think the worst thing that happened to me was getting drafted by Green Bay, going from a wide-open West Coast offense under Don Coryell (at San Diego State) to a very controlled, very methodical offensive philosophy,” Horn said. “But some of the best days of my life were playing for Green Bay. I was very fortunate to catch the tail end of the 60s great era. There were great guys on that team.
“It was a privilege to get drafted and play for Coach (Vince) Lombardi. There were some life lessons I learned that you carry with you the rest of your life. It didn’t pan out like I thought it would, but looking back it wasn’t all that bad either.”
Wisconsin made a much bigger imprint on Horn’s life than passing records and a Super Bowl ring. He met his, wife Barbara, a Milwaukee native, in the Dairy state.
“We got married at St. John’s Cathedral and had our reception at the Pfister,” he said.
Horn, a successful real estate businessman, says he tries to get back to Milwaukee every year in the spring or summer but hasn’t been to Lambeau for alumni week activities for four or five years, though it’s a tradition he’d like to rekindle. He still stays in touch with many former teammates, including Starr, Bratkowski and Herb Adderley. He sees a lot of Forrest Gregg and Jan Stenerud, who also live in Colorado Springs.
“We used to talk about what exciting things we were doing on the weekend,” he said. “Now, we compare medications.”
Horn attended Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego, was in Dallas for the Packers triumph last year and hopes to celebrate more green and gold glory next month in Indianapolis.
“They’re on a roll,” Horn of this year’s team. “I think they’re going all the way.”