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Paul Hornung

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Hornung, Paul

Paul Hornung


American football player

Star running back Paul Hornung led the great Green Bay Packer teams of the early 1960s to four National Football League (NFL) championships. One of the most versatile football players ever, in addition to being a tenacious rusherespecially within the ten-yard lineHornung also kicked field goals and extra points for the Packers, he was a halfback who could pass, he could even quarterback for the team in a pinch. From 1959 through 1961, Hornung led the NFL in points scored. He scored an astounding 176 points in 1960. An achievement that helped win him the Most Valuable Player award, it is a record that still stands as the all-time NFL season high. Hornung was famed for his exploits off the gridiron as well. He cultivated and relished his reputation as a ladies' man. In 1963 he was banished from the NFL for a full season for gambling. He was nonetheless cherished by other Green Bay players and the team's fans. "Paul was always the star of our team," Jerry Kramer wrote of his former teammate in his book Distant Replay, "we all loved Paul."

Growing Up with a Football

Paul Vernon Hornung was born in 1935 in Louisville, Kentucky. His parents separated in 1939 while Paul was still a young child and throughout his life he remained particularly close to his mother. Hornung fell in love with football as a boy, even ignoring the new bicycle he received one Christmas in favor of another presenta football. His mother would later recall how whenever football practice let out early enough, Hornung would race home on his bike to be able to play again in a neighborhood pick-up game. "He loved playing football twice a day," she told the Los Angeles Times.

Hornung was enthusiastic about most sports. At Louisville's Flaget High School, he pitched for the baseball team, was a twenty-point forward on the basketball team, and quarterbacked for the football team. He was the school's star athlete, indeed one of the best in all Kentucky, and it was assumed that he would go on to attend the University of Kentucky. However, when his football team won the state championship and Hornung was named the state's most valuable player, recruiters from colleges across the country began to knock on the Hornung family's door. Hornung's talent was great and the scholarship offers were just as extravagant. Besides full scholarships, schools offered Hornung cash bonuses, clothing and cars. One even promised a scholarship for his girlfriend too. Hornung was leaning toward U. of Kentucky, but when Notre Dame came calling, Mrs. Hornung, a devout Catholic, urged Paul to accept their scholarship. It was not a difficult decision. Hornung had already realized he liked playing on winning teams and figured he have a good chance of winning again with the Fighting Irish. He was also impressed by Notre Dame's coach, Frank Leahy.


1935 Born December 23 in Louisville, Kentucky
1953 Named Kentucky's Most Valuable High School Football Player
1953 Enters Notre Dame University
1955-56 College football All-American
1956 Wins Heisman Trophy
1956 Number One NFL draft pick
1956 Plays in Hula Bowl
1959-61 Leads the NFL in points scored
1960 Makes All-Pro
1961 Named NFL Most Valuable Player
1961 Called up as Army reservist
1963 Suspended for one year for gambling on football games
1965 Five touchdown game against the Baltimore Colts
1967 Selected by New Orleans in NFL expansion draft
1967 Retires from NFL
1967 Gets married for the first time
1975 Elected to Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame
1980 Marries second wife, Angela
1985 Elected to NFF College Football Hall of Fame
1986 Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Hornung began displaying his gridiron versatility at Notre Dame. When he arrived at the school, the team already possessed a fine quarterback in Ralph Guglielmi, and Hornung was put at halfback. Although he had never played the position before, before long he was starting there, and to such fanfare that a Louisville sports writer dubbed the strapping, six-foot blond Hornung, the "Golden Boy," a nickname that would stick with him throughout his career and into his retirement. Hornung finally became quarterback when he was a senior. The injury-laden team was only able to win two games all season. Hornung turned in a well-rounded performancehe ran, threw, tackled, kicked, and called plays. Harold Red Grange told the New York Times that Hornung was "the best running back I saw all year." At the end of the season Hornung won the Heisman trophy.

Goes to Green Bay Packers

Hornung was the top pick in the 1957 college draft, selected by the Green Bay Packers, the last place team in the NFL in 1956. His first two seasons were disappointing. Packer coach Lisle Blackbourn mistook Hornung's versatility for ineptness. After playing him at various positions, Blackbourn concluded that Hornung was too slow for halfback, couldn't pass well enough for quarterback, wasn't powerful enough for fullback. By the end of the 1958 season, Hornung was completely frustrated and wanted to be traded. His life changed when Vince Lombardi was brought in to replace Black-bourn as coach.

Lombardi, to the contrary, saw in Hornung a halfback who ran hard, could throw on the run and hence would open up a world of plays for the Packers. Lombardi also began using him to kick field goals and extra points. Hornung blossomed under Lombardi's mentorship. Abruptly he went from the player who couldn't do anything particularly well, to the NFL's leading scorer three years running, from 1959 to 1961. In 1960 Hornung led the Packers to their first-ever conference title. He threw two touchdown passes, ran for thirteen touchdowns, caught two touchdown passes, and kicked fifteen field goals and forty-one extra points for 176 points, a NFL record that no one since has come close to breaking. The following year he was almost as remarkable, scoring 146 points. He scored thirty-three of them in a single game against the Baltimore Colts.

Hornung might have challenged his 1960 record himself in 1961 except for the Cold War crisis in Berlin. A member of the Army Reserve, Hornung was called to active duty. Although he was able to play most games on weekend passes, he had to forego most workouts with the team and missed two entire games working as a truck driver and radio operator based in Fort Riley, Kansas. President John Kennedy himself arranged for a week's pass for Hornung so he could play against the New York Giants in the NFL title game. Just showing up for the game inspired the Packers. "When Paul got that leave from the Army and walked into that locker room, you could just feel the confidence grow in that room," recalled Packer Henry Jordan in Michael O'Brien's Lombardi biography Vince. Hornung's contribution to that game went much deeper than inspiration, though. He scored a touchdown in the second quarter that broke a scoreless tie, then kicked three field goals and four extra points, setting a record for championship play. The Packers whipped the Giants 37-0 and Hornung was the game MVP. After the game he told the New York Times, "This is the greatest day in my life." The paper asked him if the Heisman Trophy didn't hold that honor. "That was five years agothis was today!" he answered.

Career Statistics

Receiving Rushing Kicking
GB: Green Bay Packers.
1957 GB 6 34 5.7 0 60 319 5.3 3 0 4 0
1958 GB 15 137 9.1 0 69 310 4.5 2 11 21 22
1959 GB 15 113 7.5 0 152 681 4.5 7 7 17 31
1960 GB 28 257 9.2 2 160 671 4.2 15 15 28 41
1961 GB 15 145 9.7 2 127 597 4.7 10 15 22 41
1962 GB 9 98 10.7 2 57 219 3.8 7 6 10 14
1964 GB 9 98 10.9 0 103 415 4.0 5 12 38 41
1965 GB 19 336 17.7 3 89 299 3.4 8 0 0 0
1966 GB 14 192 13.7 3 76 200 2.6 5 0 0 0
TOTAL 130 1480 11.4 12 893 3711 4.2 50 66 140 190

Ladies Man and Gambler

By the spring of 1962, Paul Hornung was on the top of the world. He had been named the NFL's MVP for 1961. Their rival, the American Football League (AFL), was trying to lure him away from the Packers with $250,000 contract offers. He was being wooed by both parties to run for public office in Wisconsin. He had a roster of product endorsements he did regularly. His face was one of the most recognizable in the country. If that wasn't enough to make him the envy of most adult American males, Hornung also had a reputation as the country's most successful ladies' man. The stories began to circulate while he was still in college when he returned to his dorm room late one evening and found a girl there waiting for him. On another occasion, not long after he joined the Packers, a woman approached him as he sat on the benchduring a game! She refused to leave until he had his picture taken with her. As she left the field, he told her to meet him outside the locker room after the game. Hornung played down the rumors, saying that if he had done half of what he was said to have done with women he would be in a bottle at the Smithsonian Institution. At the same time, he admitted frequently, "I like girls."

Hornung's rollicking, party-boy lifestyle occasionally got him into hot water with Green Bay's coach Vince Lombardi. Lombardi put few restrictions on his players but he was a stickler for the rules he had. He fined Hornung and Max McGee, both hard drinkers who liked to do the town together, $250 each for coming in five minutes after curfew. On another occasion Hornung was fined $500 when Lombardi caught him standing with his date at a hotel bar in Chicago, in violation of team rules. Lombardi later reduced the fine to $250 when he learned that Hornung had only been drinking ginger ale.

The greatest test of Hornung's relationship with the coach occurred in 1963 when Hornung was suspended by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle . Hornung had befriended a pinball machine operator, Barney Shapiro, who took to calling Hornung for advice before placing bets on pro football games. Eventually Hornung started making bets himself, between $100 and $500 a game, on both college and pro football. Rozelle himself admitted that Hornung had never bet against the Packers. Rozelle opened an investigation into gambling in the NFL in 1962. When Rozelle's spotlight hit Hornung, he quickly admitted his guilt. Despite Hornung's immediate and evidently sincere repentance, in April 1963, Hornung and Detroit Lion Alex Karras were put on indefinite suspension for their gambling activities.

Lombardi was naturally dismayed to lose his star back. Making matters worse, Lombardi, aware of Rozelle's investigation, had asked Hornung about gambling before Hornung was confronted by the commissioner. Hornung had denied any complicity. More than the suspension, Lombardi was more disappointed that Hornung had lied to him. Rumors circulated regularly that if Hornung were allowed to return to the Pack, Lombardi would trade him. In the spring of 1964, however, when Rozelle lifted the suspensions, Lombardi welcomed the Golden Boy back, insisting only that he begin training two months before the rest of the team to get back into playing shape.

Lombardi appreciated Hornung too much as a player and leader to let him go so easily. In The Great Running Backs, George Sullivan quotes Lombardi's thoughts on Hornung: "You have to know what Hornung means to this team. I have heard and read that he is not a great runner or a great passer or a great field-goal kicker, but he led the league in scoring for three seasons. In the middle of the field he may be only slightly better than an average ballplayer, but inside the twenty-yard line he is one of the greatest I have ever seen. He smells that goal line." Ultimately Hornung's performance and dedication was what mattered most to Lombardi. Hornung also did things off the field that Lombardi valued, for example, befriending new players whom he often took along to his speaking engagements and split his fee with afterwards. In addition, Lombardi just liked Paul Hornung and was said to be closer to him than to any other Packer player.

Awards and Accomplishments

1953 Kentucky Most Valuable High School Football Player
1955-56 College football All-American
1956 Heisman Trophy
1959 Associated Press All-Pro Running Back; United Press International All-Pro Running Back
1960 Associated Press All-Pro Running Back; United Press All-Pro Running Back; Newspaper Enterprise Association All-Pro Running Back; Sporting News All-Pro Running Back; New York Daily News All-Pro Running Back
1961 NFL Most Valuable Player; Sporting News NFL Most Valuable Player; United Press NFL Most Valuable Player; Associated Press All-Pro Running Back; United Press All-Pro Running Back; Newpaper Enterprise Association All-Pro Running Back; Sporting News All-Pro Running Back; New York Daily News All-Pro Running Back
1975 Elected to Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame
1985 Elected to NFF College Football Hall of Fame
1986 Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Where Is He Now?

Paul Hornung lives with his wife in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to his real estate interests, Hornung hosts the Paul Hornung Sports Showcase, an hour-long cable show shown nationwide. Hornung supports a number of charities and has pledged more than $300,000 to his alma mater, Notre Dame.

Never the Same

Hornung was never the same again after his return from the suspension. He struggled particularly making his kicks. He had lost his timing and missed 26 of 38 field goal attempts in 1964. Lombardi replaced him with another kicker to allow Hornung to concentrate on his rushing. He suffered a string of injuries though that kept him on the bench, including a pinched nerve in his neck that would eventually end his career. He had one last brilliant flash of glory in 1965 against the Colts when he ran for sixty-one yards, caught two passes for 115 yards, and scored five touchdowns. The win put the Packers in a tie for first place with the Colts. Green Bay went all the way and won the NFL championship again.

He sat out much of the 1966 season, including Super Bowl I, because of his hurt neck. At the end of the season, Lombardi, thinking no team would want an injured player, put Hornung's name on the list of Green Bay players available for the expansion draft. He had figured wrong. The New Orleans Saints grabbed Hornung. Lombardi was mortified, but Hornung was prepared to go to New Orleans to play. Unfortunately, a medical examination revealed that the nerve injury in his neck was more serious than first thought. When doctors told him that continued play could result in paralysis, Hornung retired. As it was, the injury resulted in the loss of much of the use of Hornung's right arm.

After his retirement Paul Hornung became a sports broadcaster, in particular covering Notre Dame and other college games. He invested his football earnings well in a number of real estate ventures in Louisville. The man-about-town, who, when an angry Vince Lombardi demanded whether he wanted to be a football player or a playboy, answered "A playboy!" got married once in 1967, divorced, and married again in 1980.

An All-Pro and MVP, Paul Hornung rushed for 3,711 yards and fifty touchdowns in his nine seasons with the Packers. He had 130 pass receptions for 383 yards. As kicker, he hit 190 of 194 extra points and sixty-six of 140 field goals. Paul Hornung was the heart and soul of the Green Bay Packers in the early 1960s. He was voted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 1975, to the NFF College Hall of Fame in 1985, and to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986.


Address: Waterfront Plaza, Suite 1116, 325 West Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202. Email: Online:


(With Tim Cohane) "How Winning Changed My Image." Look (November 20, 1962).

"The Girls and I." Look (July 27, 1965).

"Why I Gambled and What It Cost Me." Look (August 10, 1965).

(With Al Silverman) Football and the Single Man, Doubleday, 1965.



Bengston, Phil, with Todd Hunt. Packer Dynasty. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1969Hornung, Paul, and Al Silverman. Football and the Single Man. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965.

Kramer, Jerry, with Dick Schaap. Distant Replay. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1985.

O'Brien, Michael. Vince. New York: William Morrow & Co, 1987.

Sullivan, George. The Great Running Backs. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1972.

Wiebusch, John, (ed.). Lombardi. Chicago: Follett Publishing Co., 1971.


"Confessions of a Legend." Time (October 29, 1965): 78.

Hornung, Paul. "The Girls and I." Look (July 27, 1965): 60.

Hornung, Paul, with Tim Cohane. "How Winning Changed My Image." Look (November 20, 1962): 124

Hornung, Paul. "Why I Gambled and What It Cost Me." Look (August 10, 1965): 61.

"The Indispensable Man." Time (October 27, 1961): 74.

Oates, Bob. "The Golden Boy." Los Angeles Times (February 24, 1986): C10.

"Packers' Golden Boy." New York Times (January 7, 1962): 16.

Wallace, William N. "Pro Football Ban on Hornung and Karras Lifted After 11 Months." New York Times (March 17, 1964): 41.

White, Gordon S., Jr. "Football Stars Banned for Bets." New York Times (April 18, 1963): 1.

Sketch by Gerald E. Brennan

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