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'Golden Boy' Paul Hornung: 1935 - 2020

'Golden Boy' Paul Hornung: 1935 - 2020

11/13/2020
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The professional football world today is celebrating the life and mourning the death of its “Golden Boy.”

Paul Hornung, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 1986, died Friday. He was 84.

The following is a statement from Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker:

“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Paul Hornung. He was an outstanding player and an incredible man. Known as "The Golden Boy," Paul was above all a leader to whom the Packers looked for the big plays in the big games – especially during the team’s dynasty years under Coach Vince Lombardi in the 1960s.

"We will keep his legacy in the Game alive forever at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Our thoughts and prayers are with Paul’s wife, Angela, and their entire family. The Hall of Fame flag will be flown at half-staff in Paul’s memory.”

Born and raised in Louisville, Ky., Hornung was a four-year letter winner in high school in three sports: football, basketball and baseball. He took his talents to Notre Dame, even after being heavily recruited by the great Paul “Bear” Bryant to stay near home and play for the University of Kentucky.

After a successful career at Notre Dame that included winning the Heisman Trophy in 1956, the Green Bay Packers selected Hornung in the 1957 NFL Draft with the first overall pick. He would spend his first two years playing fullback alongside Don McIlhenny, carrying the ball 60 times for 319 yards and 69 times for 310 yards in his first two seasons. 

In 1959, future Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi arrived in Green Bay. He moved Hornung to halfback in the Packers’ backfield, a switch that increased his workload, played to his wide-ranging skills and immediately produced three noteworthy seasons. He led the league in scoring each year, including 176 points in 1960 – a record that stood for 46 years and has been surpassed only once, by future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006.

Hornung capped his three-year stretch of elite-level running, kicking, blocking and passing with a record-breaking 19-point outburst in the 1961 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants, a game the Packers won 37-0. He was named the league’s MVP.

Called to serve for the Army in 1961, Hornung was given weekends off to play in the NFL.

Known as the “Golden Boy” from his college days, Hornung missed the 1963 NFL season, serving a suspension Commissioner Pete Rozelle imposed amid a gambling investigation that reached into the NFL. Accepting that decision, Hornung later would refer to Rozelle as the best commissioner of any sports league.

Following his suspension, Hornung jumped right back into the game, rushing 103 times for 415 yards in 1964. The next two seasons were a struggle, however, as neck and shoulder injuries curtailed his productivity. He retired following the 1966 season.

Hornung remains the only player to win the Heisman Trophy, be selected first overall, win the NFL MVP Award and be inducted in both the Pro Football and College Football Halls of Fame. He played in two Pro Bowls and was named to the All-Decade Team of the 1960s while playing on four championship teams.

Following his playing days, Hornung became an analyst for the Minnesota Vikings and CBS from 1974-79. He also hosted the “Paul Hornung Showcase,” an hourlong cable production that aired nationwide. Real estate and other business ventures kept him active following football.

Jerry Kramer, a teammate from the Packers’ dynasty of the 1960s, said Hornung “was always the star of our team, even after he stopped being the best player. … He could do it all.”

The numbers back up that assessment: 3,711 rushing yards, 130 receptions for 1,480 yards, 760 total points, 66 field goals made, 98 percent accuracy on 194 extra-point attempts and 383 passing yards.

“Paul may have been the best all-around back ever to play football, and his blocking was one of the reasons for that,” Lombardi said in his book, “Vince Lombardi on Football.” He also once called Hornung, “the greatest of the great when the games are on the line.”

“At midfield, he was a good back, but inside the 20, where you have to score, he was just the greatest at getting those points,” Lombardi praised. “He smelled the goal line.”

Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley, whose death preceded Hornung’s by only two weeks, said of Hornung: “Vince called him our ‘money player,’ and he was just that. He should have been the first player from our team in the Hall of Fame.”

When Ron Wolf, a Hall of Fame enshrinee in 2015, became general manager of the Packers in 1991, he inherited three of Lombardi’s assistant coaches as scouts. He once asked each of them if there was a draft of Lombardi’s players who would they take No. 1? All three answered Hornung.

Hornung defined versatility in both college and professional football. Since 2010, the Paul Hornung Award has been given annually to the most versatile college player in the country.

In a tribute to Hornung on the Packers.com website, Doug Adkins, the Hall of Fame defensive end from the Chicago Bears, called him “probably the best all-around back in modern-day football.”

“He could pass. He could run. He could kick. He could catch. He could block,” Adkins said in a 1996 interview of the player he faced twice a year over nine seasons. “They say, ‘Well, he couldn’t run as good as so-and-so. He couldn’t do this.’ I say, ‘Who the hell could do all those things?’ He could run like hell and do these things in key situations.”

Hornung’s legacy will be preserved forever in Canton, Ohio.

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