rembering Paul Hornung
The Golden Boy has entered the pearly gates. University of Notre Dame and Green Bay Packer legend Paul Hornung passed away peacefully from dementia related complications last Friday November 13th. The 2012 Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame inductee was 84 years old.
Paul Vernon Hornung was born December 23, 1935 in Louisville, KY. Nicknamed the “Golden Boy” for his blonde curly hair and handsome good looks, he attended Flaget High School where he was a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and track. Heavily recruited and coveted by a young Bear Bryant who was a coach with Kentucky at the time, Paul ultimately chose the University of Notre Dame at the urging of his mother Loretta, a devout Roman Catholic and his best friend and high school teammate Sherrill Sipes. Hornung credits the decision as the best he made in life. Sherrill Sipes went on to play for the Fighting Irish with Hornung and to this day they are the only two players from the same high school to ever start in a Notre Dame backfield at the same time.
Hornung lived up to the hype at Notre Dame becoming a national sensation and two-time All-American at quarterback and winning the Heisman Trophy in 1956. Often called the most versatile player in Notre Dame and NFL history he played every position in the backfield during his three-year varsity career spanning from 1953-56. As a senior, he led the Irish in passing, rushing, scoring, kickoff and punt returns, punting, field goal extra points, passes broken up, and ranked second in interceptions and tackles. He was without contention the best player in college football, but it was something Hornung did at Notre Dame while not in uniform that would reap his greatest reward. As a student, he gave a tour of the stadium to a guy named John F. Kennedy, who at the time was a U.S. Senator. Years later, as a Green Bay Packer, Hornung got drafted into the military and was going to miss the NFL title game, until Coach Vince Lombardi told Hornung to call now President John F. Kennedy. "He said I'll get back to you. He didn't tell me who he was calling. He got back to me three hours later or maybe the next day and said 'You're gonna be ok to take the second two-week’s vacation for Christmas, which will enable you to play in the championship game and I'm going to have a plane come pick you up,'" said Hornung.
The Green Bay Packers drafted Hornung as the number one pick in the 1957 NFL Draft and he blossomed in the NFL as a Packer evolving into an all-pro halfback in the 1960s who could run, pass, catch, block and kick. The pinnacle of his colorful NFL tenure came during three exceptional seasons in 1959, 1960 and 1961 when Hornung led the NFL in scoring two of those years and finished second the other year by one point. In 1960, he capped a stellar season when he scored a record 176 points in 12 games on 15 touchdowns, 15 field goals and 41 extra points – a mark that would stand for nearly 46 years. He was the NFL’s MVP in 1961, and his Packers earned NFL titles in 1961, 1962 and 1965, and won Super Bowl I in 1967. Those years included the 1961 stretch in which Hornung was called to active duty in the Army to fulfill ROTC requirements from Notre Dame. He obtained weekend passes thanks to his friendship with President Kennedy to play in Packers games, including the 37-0 rout of the New York Giants in the 1961 Championship in which he scored a record 19 points. Hornung scored the winning touchdown in the 1965 NFL championship game against the Cleveland Browns, and suited up for Super Bowl I, but did not play because of a neck injury. He was the first player selected by the New Orleans Saints in the 1967 expansion draft, but never played due to injury and subsequently retired from football.
Post football, Hornung resumed a successful real estate and investment career with hometown friend and mentor Frank Metts, and launched a career as a sports radio and TV commentator and speaker. He was a college and pro football analyst for CBS, TBS, ABC Radio; a color analyst on radio for the Minnesota Vikings and Notre Dame; and along with Lindsay Nelson, in 1966 did tape delay broadcasts of Notre Dame games that aired Sundays. He authored multiple books, including, “My Private Collection: The Paul Hornung Scrapbook” published in 2014; and “Lombardi and Me: Players, Coaches and Colleagues Talk about the Man and the Myth,” published in 2006.
Outside of the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame he was inducted into the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame in 1975, National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame in 1985, Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986, National High School Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990. In 2012, he was inducted in the inaugural class of the Louisville Catholic Sports Hall of Fame.
Fellow CSHOF member and former Chicago Bear Dan Hampton had this to say, “There was no one like Paul Hornung. When I first arrived in Chicago as a Bear we had a love hate relationship with the Packers. We loved to hate them. As my career progressed and I became closer with Bears of the generation before me like Dick Butkus and Ed O’Bradovich, I learned that they all actually truly loved and respected their peers from Green Bay. They respected those great Green Bay teams so much and always talked about the greatness of those middle 60s teams with Bart Starr and Hornung. When I first met Paul, I was struck by how gregarious, respectful, adoring and fun he was with all of us Bears. He was class and a lot of fun to party with as well! He will be missed by us.”
Hornung is survived by his wife of 41 years, Angela. Due to coronavirus restrictions, there will be a private funeral mass at St. Louis Bertrand Church in Louisville followed by a private burial. The Green Bay Packers have said a public celebration of his life will be held at a later date.