With the passing of Green Bay Packers legend Paul Hornung, many in the football community are looking back on his career as both a football player and member of the United States Army.
Hornung was initially recruited by the legendary Bear Bryant to play football at the University of Kentucky, but instead singed on with Notre Dame. He chose Notre Dame over Kentucky, for the opportunity to play basketball in addition to football. Hornung’s breakout year in college came as a junior, where he lined up on the field as fullback and safety. The next year, Hornung won the Heisman Trophy as the quarterback of the Fighting Irish. Due to his versatility and his ability to line up all over the field, Hornung is considered as one of not only the greatest Notre Dame players ever, but also college football players ever.
Paul Hornung NFL Career
The Green Bay Packers chose Hornung with the first overall pick in the 1957 draft. The “Golden Boy” instantly became an impact player for the Packers. When Vince Lombardi joined the Packers in 1959, Hornung became a household name. Hornung was one half of the greatest backfield of all time, partnered with Jim Taylor. He also played kicker. Hornung led the NFL in scoring in 1959, 1960 and 1961. In 1961, during a game against the Baltimore Colts, Hornung scored four touchdowns, kicked six extra points and added another field goal, totaling 33 points, which is good for second most points in an NFL game in history. His 1961 season concluded with him winning the NFL MVP and an NFL championship. Hornung’s stellar 1961 season came on the back of him also being enlisted in the US Army. He was granted weekend passes to play football, thanks to Lombardi’s friendship with president John F. Kennedy.
The rest of his career was defined by constant success, culminating in four championships (1961, 1962, 1965 and 1966), two pro bowls (1959 and 1960), and three all pro selections (1959, 1960 and 1961). In 1965, Hornung scored a team record five touchdowns in a game versus the Baltimore Colts. This feat has been highly overshadowed though as the next day, Gale Sayers of the Chicago Bears famously scored six touchdowns against San Francisco.
The low point of Hornung’s career came as he was suspended for the entire 1963 season, along with fellow superstar and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras. The suspension was due in part to the two’s tendency to gamble on games. This threw a thorn in the side of the league, as Hornung and Karras were two of the best players, with Hornung being the most popular.
After the very first Super Bowl, Hornung was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the expansion draft. Hornung though was unable to play for the Saints, as a pinched nerve caused him to retire during training camp. Hornung finished his professional football career with 3,711 rushing yards, 50 rushing touchdowns, 1,480 receiving yards, 12 receiving touchdowns, 66 field goals and 190 extra points.
Paul Hornung Legacy
In 1986, Paul Hornung was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. He was “blacklisted” from the Hall of Fame for 15 years, due to his involvement in gambling. He is currently one of 13 players inducted into the Hall of Fame who were a part of Lombardi’s dominating Packers. During his commencement speech, Hornung stated, “This is the greatest day of my life” and thanked his mother for raising him by herself. Hornung currently sits at fourth on the Packers’ all-time scoring list, with 760 career points. He is one of nine players in NFL history to win both the Heisman Trophy and the NFL MVP (Frank Sinkwich, Paul Hornung, Roger Staubach, OJ Simpson, Earl Campbell, Marcus Allen, Barry Sanders, Cam Newton and Lamar Jackson). Hornung was also noted for his extreme popularity earning him the nickname “Golden Boy.” He would often frequent the local Green Bay bars and restaurants, where he met many fans.
Hornung joins Willie Wood, Willie Davis and Herb Adderly as four Lombardi era Packers who have died in 2020. He will be missed by many in not only the Packers’ community, but also the NFL community. Packers head coach Matt LaFluer commented on the passing of Hornung saying, “The Packers have lost another legend…That’s four for the year with him, Adderley, Willie Wood and Willie Davis. Anytime you lose legends like that, it’s always a sad day. They’re a big reason why the Green Bay Packers are the Green Bay Packers.”
Hornung was a major key of the great Packers teams in the late 50’s and early 60’s. The Golden Boy will always be remembered as one of, if not the greatest Packer of all time. With his on-field play and off-field personality, many Green Bay fans have very fond memories of Hornung. He will be remembered as one of the greatest football players, as well as remembered as an American hero for his time with the Army.
Rest in Peace, Paul. You will be missed.