Checking in with a Gridiron Great

Just nine months after being selected in the first round of the newly merged NFL’s draft, California native and San Diego State quarterback Don Horn found himself suiting up for the Ice Bowl, the coldest football game in history.

“Never have I been as cold as I was in the Ice Bowl,” he said.

Still, he said he was so excited to play for Super Bowl champions, he didn’t worry about the weather at all.

“Never gave it a thought,” he said, “I was excited and honored to be given an opportunity to become a part of the Lombardi Packers.”

Horn’s route to the Packers, though direct from the draft room, took a couple of twists, including one that landed him outside my dad’s hotel door on the night before the 1968 Bears game. In those days, players were not only drafted by the NFL, they often were drafted by the U.S. military as well. Several players juggled NFL responsibilities with military obligations. 

In an effort to ensure that Horn would be available to play during the season, then-general manager Vince Lombardi and the Packers staff encouraged him to enlist into an Army Reserve Unit based in Milwaukee. 

“I was scheduled to go to my basic and advanced Army training in late February or March of 1968,” Horn said. “Well, that was delayed and I ended up having to go in July.”

Due to his military service, he missed nearly the entire 1968 NFL season until the final game, at Wrigley Field against the Bears.

“Funny story is, I had an Army reserve meeting that Saturday night and, after I got released from that meeting, I had to drive to Chicago to be with the team. I got to the Drake Hotel a little after 2 a.m. and guess who I had to wake up to get him to let me in to sleep? Your dad.”

The Packers went on to beat the Bears 28-27 in that game as Horn completed 10 of 16 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns.  (Bart Starr had been injured earlier in the season and Zeke Bratkowski went down with an injury early in the game. So, fresh off his military service and on very little sleep, Don stepped up and played so well he racked up a 142.4 passer rating, according to the Pro Football Reference Guide.)

He played for the Packers for two more seasons after that, then the Broncos for two, and the Browns and Chargers for a year each.

When he thinks about his years in Green Bay, Horn said his favorite memories involve his teammates, the fans and “being a part of the great tradition of the Green Bay Packers.”

“That group of guys,” he said. “Players of great character and ability (so many are in the Hall of Fame and some still should be in my opinion).  But more importantly, that team of ‘characters’ did so much more off the field for their community and family. They were all very good leaders in their chosen fields both during and after they left the great game we call football.”

Horn, another very good leader in his chosen field, attributes that collective drive to achieve off the field to the lessons their legendary coach passed on to his players.

“Lessons of discipline and commitment to excellence,” he said. “Work work work and then work harder. Never give up – You are better than you think you are. Take pride in all you do. You are a professional at whatever your chosen field may be.”

These days, he is putting those lessons to work toward a cause close to his heart as an advocate for his fellow retired players. For the past seven years he has been working with Gridiron Greats, a charity founded by Jerry Kramer, to provide financial grants and medical assistance to NFL veterans in dire need.

“I got involved primarily because I was getting more disappointed with the NFL, NFL Alumni and the Players Association because they were not doing enough to help so many older retired players that really needed some kind of assistance,” he said. “The problem still exists today.”

Four years ago, Horn was inducted into the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame for his work as an advocate for retired players.

Former Packer quarterback Don Horn, wearing his Super Bowl II ring and holding up a picture of him playing at Wrigley Field.
Here’s a closer look at the picture he is holding up, in which the ferocious Dick Butkus does not appear to be fazing him. (I think this is the game following good ole Number 13’s 2 a.m. arrival in Chicago.)
My friends Dave and Laura Marran sent me their copy of the 1967 Bishop’s Charity Packer program this week and, as I was paging through it, this article caught my eye. I decided to check in with the always affable Don Horn and he was kind enough to let me interview him.
Don met his wife Barbara on a blind date while he was playing for the Packers. They married a few years later, raised three children and enjoyed 10 grandchildren during their 53 years together. Sadly, Barbara passed away earlier this year. She was, by all accounts (including my Mom’s) a very kind woman.

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