Paul Hornung, the NFL’s “Golden Boy,” was the quintessential Jack of all trades during his legendary nine-year career in Green Bay Packers green and gold from the late 1950s until the mid-1960s.
Hornung could do it all. He racked up yardage in the air and on the ground, passed, kicked, and blocked.
Behind Hornung’s versatility and Vince Lombardi’s leadership, the Green Bay Packers won four NFL titles between 1959 and 1966. Truly, it was a memorable stretch in the team’s storied history.
Hornung’s accolades included two Pro Bowl berths, the 1961 NFL MVP award, the Bert Bell Award, two First-Team All-Pro selections, and one Second-Team All-Pro selection.
Paul Hornung earned his gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH in the summer of 1986. He’s also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Truly, the “Golden Boy” is a Green Bay Packers legend in every sense of the word.
Paul Vernon Hornung, Jr. was born to parents Paul Sr. and Loretta in Louisville, KY on December 23, 1935.
According to Hornung’s 2010 autobiography, Golden Boy (which he wrote when he was 66 years old in 2001), he was born at 7:05 a.m. at St. Anthony’s Hospital.
Hornung’s maternal grandfather ran a grocery in his hometown of Louisville, KY. His mother Loretta left his dad Paul Sr. at their Queens, NY apartment in her eighth month of pregnancy, so she could give birth to Paul Jr. in her home state.
Paul Sr. and Loretta eventually divorced when Paul Jr. was just two or three years old. The future Heisman Trophy Winner and NFL MVP attributed the split to his father’s drinking. Paul Sr. left his wife and son when his tenure at Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. came to an end.
Loretta Hornung worked as a clerk and typist at the Works Progress Administration when Paul Jr. was four years old. She got a job at the Louisville Army Medical Depot’s personnel department sometime later. Paul Jr. and his mother lived in an apartment on the second floor of his grandfather’s grocery building at the time.
By the time both Paul Jr.’s maternal grandparents passed away, his mom Loretta sold the family grocery. She and Paul Jr. soon moved in with a widow who didn’t have ample accommodations. Consequently, mother and son had to sleep on two army cots in the living room.
Paul Jr. and his mother moved into two more apartments. His mom remained in the second one until his senior year at Notre Dame in 1956.
An Athletic Child
Paul Jr. had two fond memories of his childhood. First, he lugged bucketloads of coal up the stairs to fire up the stove. Second, he fondly remembered how his mom provided everything he needed. Whether it was an outfielder’s glove or a Louisville Slugger baseball bat, she gave it to him.
Let's go extremely rare tonight and remember a legend.
Paul Hornung's '52 high school yearbook at Flaget.
1 Action shot
2 Pictured with his backfield
3 The homecoming court (Paul not pictured)
4 Ky's best player pic.twitter.com/EWFT4izZj3
— Kentucky High School Sports History (@KYHSHistory) November 19, 2020
Paul Jr. went to St. Patrick’s Church when he was in grade school. He served as an altar boy for several years. By the time he was in fifth grade, he was big enough to suit up for the school’s eighth-grade squad.
Fast forward three years later, Paul Jr. became the starting quarterback of the football team. His head coach, a priest named Father William O’Hare, allowed Hornung to call the plays because he had zero football knowledge.
It was during this time when Paul Jr. learned how to play soccer. He was essentially a self-taught soccer player, per his 2010 autobiography.
Paul Jr. got to see his dad again when he was around thirteen or fourteen years old. His father was drunk and about to strike his mother when their son, who was almost as big as his dad by then, intervened and told him he had to get by him first.
Paul Sr. promptly left the premises. It was the only confrontation the father and son would ever have.
Paul Jr. first became intimate with a woman when was thirteen years old. In his 2010 autobiography, he confessed to doing the deed with an older girl near the railroad tracks.
High School Days
Paul Hornung, Jr. attended Flaget High School in Louisville, KY. He excelled in football, basketball, and baseball for the Flaget Braves.
When Paul Jr. was in high school, his dad had dinner with him once a week. He gave him ten or fifteen dollars every time they met. Paul Jr. in turn, gave the money to his mother when he got home.
Unfortunately, Paul Sr. never attended any of his son’s games dating back to his grade school days. Had he shown up, Loretta Hornung believed her ex-husband would turn up in an intoxicated state and stir up trouble in the stands.
Paul Jr. looked up to a real estate professional named Henry Hoffman as a father figure. He and his wife Edna used to go out on double dates with Paul Sr. and Loretta when they were still together. Paul Jr. fondly referred to them as “Uncle Henry” and “Aunt Edna.”
Hoffman had dinner with Paul Jr. once a week. The former always gave the youngster a tray full of food and reminded him to finish everything.
Paul Jr. also admired Uncle Henry’s fashion sense. Hoffman was a spiffy dresser who bought him a sports coat on Christmas Day every year. He also told Paul Jr. he was going to make his first million by the time he turned 30 years old.
Paul Jr.’s fascination with kicking continued during his days at Flaget High School. Once football practice wrapped up, he headed over to a nearby playground where he practiced kicking the pigskin over the basketball goals.
It was a skill he put to good use as a hybrid halfback and kicker with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers several years later.
This is from the Paul Hornung Award Banquet back on March 4, 2020: Paul Hornung and Howard Schnellenberger chatting. They were baseball, basketball and football teammates at Flaget High School.
Two Louisville legends that the city and sports world sadly lost just months apart. pic.twitter.com/g2pxOLjkmP
— Tyler Greever (@Tyler_Greever) March 27, 2021
Choosing a Sport
Paul developed a student-mentor relationship with Louisville Colonels baseball player Bill Shade and wanted to become a baseball pitcher during his high school days. His fastball had a lot of zip, but his control left much to be desired.
He admitted in his 2010 autobiography he preferred basketball over football and baseball at this point in his life.
Paul Jr. eventually committed to the gridiron and became his high school’s starting quarterback in his sophomore season.
He considered his six-touchdown performance—four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns—in a 61-7 rout of Owensboro Catholic his best performance in high school. He added seven PATs for good measure.
Hornung got his driver’s license and a second-hand black and yellow Chevy from his mother on his sixteenth birthday. Hornung and Sherrill Sipes, his best friend in high school, drove around with four girls in his new car.
Unfortunately, Hornung rear-ended his car after he backed it around the corner and hit another vehicle.
Deciding on a College
Paul Hornung met legendary Kentucky Wildcats head football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant in his senior year. Hornung had a favorable first impression of Bryant, who visited his Louisville, KY residence at least six times.
“I’d have to say Bryant is one of the five most impressive people I’ve ever met,” Hornung wrote in his 2010 autobiography. “He was as handsome as a movie star and had that deep, growly voice.”
Bryant wasn’t the only big-name college football coach who wanted Hornung. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s Frank Leahy, the Oklahoma Sooners’ Bud Wilkinson, the Maryland Terrapins’ Jim Tatum, and the Michigan State Spartans’ Clarence “Biggie” Munn all wanted him to play for their respective football programs.
Hornung eventually whittled down his shortlist to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Kentucky Wildcats, and Indiana Hoosiers.
The Final Decision
When Hornung and Sipes visited Notre Dame, they saw Leahy sitting on a huge chair similar to a king’s throne. The recruits lined up and talked to him one at a time.
When it was Hornung’s turn, Leahy, who called his players “lads,” told him he would look great in Irish green. Although Leahy had never seen Hornung play at the high school level, he offered him a scholarship, anyway.
Hornung ran into Leahy again in the early spring on the Notre Dame campus. The coach told him he would get a good education and a reputation as the best football player in the nation.
Paul Hornung decided to commit to Notre Dame in a telegram to Leahy in the summer of 1953. The deciding factor was his mother, Loretta.
“In the final analysis, I did it for Mom. She had sacrificed so much for me that I felt I owed her at least this much,” Hornung wrote in his 2010 book. “If I hadn’t picked Notre Dame, I think it would have broken her heart.”
The man who later became known as the “Golden Boy” made a name for himself with the school with the Golden Dome in the college football ranks.
College Days with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Paul Hornung attended the University of Notre Dame from 1953 to 1956. He suited up for Notre Dame Fighting Irish head football coaches, Frank Leahy and Terry Brennan.
Hornung admitted in his 2010 autobiography it wasn’t love at first sight when he first laid eyes on Notre Dame’s campus in South Bend, IN. However, that all changed as his freshman season wound down.
When the school’s sports information department asked Hornung to fill out a questionnaire and name his heroes during his freshman season, he singled out Green Bay Packers quarterback Babe Parilli and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Ralph Beard.
Hornung chose to wear No. 5, beginning his college football career as a fitting tribute to his baseball hero, New York Yankees center fielder Joe DiMaggio.
Hornung had wanted to major in engineering since his high school days. However, his coaches at Notre Dame dissuaded him because engineering laboratory classes conflicted with football practices.
With that, Paul Hornung decided to major in business. He did well in his academic subjects at Notre Dame. The lone exception was accounting, which he almost failed.
Hornung’s freshman season coincided with Leahy’s last as Notre Dame’s head football coach. Hornung wrote in his 2010 autobiography Leahy went out of his way to give his freshman recruit national acclaim by bragging about his football playing skills to the media. Leahy had never done that for any of his players before.
Sometime during Hornung’s freshman season, he witnessed team captain Don Penza choking up at a pep rally. Penza couldn’t hold back his tears as he apologized to the student body for his blown catch against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Not emotional by nature, Hornung felt the sincerity of Penza’s words. Before long, he and the other students started tearing up.
“From that moment on, I was a Notre Dame man to the core,” Hornung wrote in his 2010 book.
By the time Hornung’s sophomore campaign began in 1954, he suited up for the varsity squad and played on both sides of the ball. He played fullback and safety for new Irish head football coach, Terry Brennan. As the season wore on, Brennan envisioned Hornung replacing Ralph Guglielmi at quarterback.
Hornung started his varsity carer by kicking off to the Texas Longhorns in Notre Dame’s emphatic 21-0 victory in September of that year. The Irish went on to win eight of their remaining nine games.
Hornung hit his stride as a halfback and safety in 1955. Despite an injury-riddled roster, Notre Dame went 8-2 in Brennan’s second year at the helm.
Since the University of Notre Dame didn’t have a coed population when Hornung played for the Irish, he and his teammates had to be proactive in terms of dating women.
Going to St. Mary’s College, a women’s liberal arts school, required several bus rides. To get around that obstacle, Hornung dated a “townie”—a girl who’s from South Bend, IN who had a car. Hornung dated both local townies and showgirls from Chicago, IL in his senior year in 1956.
Finishing a Great College Career
The Irish regressed considerably in Hornung’s senior year. They went 2-8 in the 1956 NCAA season—the worst record in Notre Dame football’s 57-year history.
Hornung had become one of the most versatile football players in the nation. In fact, he led Notre Dame in passing yardage, rushing yardage, total offense, kickoff and punt returns, punting, and passes broken up as a senior.
Hornung earned his second consecutive First-Team All-American selection following his senior season at Notre Dame. He also won the 1956 Heisman Trophy. It marked the only time in college football history a player from a losing team won the award.
Once Paul Hornung played his final down at Notre Dame, he embarked on a colorful and legendary nine-year pro football career with Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.
Pro Football Career
The Green Bay Packers chose Paul Hornung as the first overall selection in the 1957 NFL Draft.
Hornung’s pro football career got off to an inauspicious start. He split his time between fullback and quarterback for Packers head coaches, Lisle Blackbourn and Ray McLean from 1957 to 1958.
Hornung had a combined 619 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns on 129 carries for Green Bay during those two seasons.
Simply put, the Packers were a terrible team in Paul Hornung’s first two years in the NFL. They had a combined four wins in 1957 and 1958.
Since winning the NFL Championship under head coach Curly Lambeau in 1944, Green Bay had missed the postseason fifteen straight years.
That all changed when Vince Lombardi became the Packers’ head coach in 1959.
When Lombardi took over, Paul Hornung’s game reached unprecedented heights. He led the league in scoring for three straight seasons as a quarterback, running back, and placekicker. Hornung’s 13 rushing touchdowns led the National Football League in 1960.
The pinnacle of Hornung’s success on the NFL gridiron was from 1959 to 1961. During those three seasons, Hornung earned two Pro Bowl selections, one Second-Team All-Pro selection, and two First-Team All-Pro selections.
Paul Hornung also won the NFL Most Valuable Player award and Bert Bell Award in the 1961 NFL campaign.
Success at Last
The Green Bay Packers averaged nine wins in Vince Lombardi’s first three years at the helm from 1959 to 1961. They went 11-3 in 1961 and beat the New York Giants in the NFL Championship Game, 37-0.
After seventeen long years, the Green Bay Packers were kings of the National Football League again.
For his part, Paul Hornung savored the first of his four NFL titles during his legendary nine-year pro football career.
Prior to winning his first title in the NFL, Hornung served in the United States Army during his MVP season in 1961. He had to get weekend passes so he could play for the Packers in the season’s second half.
When Lombardi found out the Berlin Wall Crisis would prevent Hornung from playing against the Giants, he reached out to President John F. Kennedy who, in turn, allowed Hornung to suit up in the title game.
Paul Hornung earned NFL Championship Game MVP honors after scoring a touchdown and three field goals against New York.
Hornung had a reputation as a ladies’ man when he played for Green Bay from the late 1950s until the mid-1960s. Packers punter and wide receiver Max McGee was Hornung’s partner in crime back in the day.
“My life was all about games, girls, gambling, and gin joints, not necessarily in that order,” Hornung wrote in his 2010 autobiography.
Legendary sports writer Dick Schaap, who Hornung considered to be one of the best in the business, once spent an entire week covering the Packers before their game against the Cleveland Browns.
Playing Hard and Living Harder
Schapp noted Hornung drank martinis with Ron Kramer and their teammates from the end of practice at 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. They drank wine, scotch, and brandy while having dinner afterward.
By Schapp’s estimate, Hornung drank 60 glasses of alcohol a day. Hornung thought his estimate was an exaggeration, believing it was more like twenty per day, per his 2010 autobiography.
Schapp also observed Hornung never slept earlier than 4 a.m. The latter also never went to bed by himself.
In the aftermath of the Packers’ 1961 championship season, Lombardi told the media how he managed Hornung and McGee, the two Packers players who got into the most trouble with the volatile head coach.
Lombardi told reporters needed to have some serious R&R every now and then. Whenever he observed Hornung at practice, he knew what he was up to the previous night.
Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras rocked the football world in the spring of 1963.
NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended both players indefinitely for allegedly betting on football games.
Hornung insisted his wagers were between $100 and $200. However, Rozelle was convinced the Packers star wagered as much as $500 on football games from 1959 to 1961.
“I made a terrible mistake,” an apologetic Hornung told ESPN’s Larry Schwartz on April 17, 1963. “I am truly sorry.”
Hornung’s suspension forced him to sit out the entire 1963 NFL season. Rozelle reinstated Hornung and Karras in the spring of 1964. Hornung found out about his reinstatement while he was on vacation in Miami Beach, FL.
Getting Back to Work
According to The Spokesman-Review’s March 17, 1964 issue, Hornung worked as a high school football broadcaster in Louisville, KY, and appeared on various radio and television sports programs during his year-long suspension.
Indeed, it was a precursor to Paul Hornung’s life after football as a renowned sports media personality.
In Lombardi’s seventh season as Packers head coach in 1965, he enforced a rule that allowed his married players to stay with their wives at home or in a hotel after preseason games.
However, it was different for the Packers’ single players. They had an 11 p.m. curfew at St. Norbert College in De Pere, WI.
One day, Hornung and McGee decided to spend the night with some girls at Green Bay’s Northland Hotel. Their deed weighed heavily on McGee’s conscience, and he went back to the dorm at 5:00 the following morning.
To McGee’s astonishment, Lombardi told him he wanted to talk to him and Hornung. McGee went back to the hotel to pick up his best friend and eventually face Lombardi’s wrath.
Whatever Hornung and his teammates did, they just couldn’t get past the fiery and mercurial Lombardi.
“Lombardi had the greatest spy network in the history of football,” Hornung wrote in his 2010 autobiography. “I don’t know how he found out about it, but he did. The SOB always knew where we were and what we were doing.”
McGee and Hornung met with Lombardi while he was watching film at 10 a.m. The Packers head coach went ballistic. He went on a profanity-laced tirade for several minutes.
BOTD Max McGee
Paul Hornung and McGee would break curfew often (all the time)
Max didn’t think he was going to play so he stayed out all night prior to Super Bowl I.
Bart Starr saw him stagger into the 🏨 at 6:30 AM. #Packers pic.twitter.com/PR7QK0719V
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) July 16, 2022
Lombardi then asked Hornung if he wanted to be a player or a playboy. Undaunted, Hornung shouted he wanted to be a playboy.
Hornung was so irate, he wanted to bolt from the training camp premises. He even considered asking Lombardi to trade him to the Chicago Bears.
A more pacified Lombardi apologized to Hornung when they met again some six hours later. Lombardi fined his prized halfback $500 for his dalliance the previous night.
Hornung thought his $500 fine wasn’t a big deal at all. He and McGee set records for fines among the Packers players during their era. Hornung thought the fines they incurred could have boosted a tiny Caribbean country’s economy.
One day, Lombardi’s phone rang at 4 a.m. Before he even picked it up, he had a feeling Hornung was in trouble again.
His wife Marie urged him to answer the phone. Vince told her he was afraid to find out who it was. His wife knocked some sense into him and told him it could be one of his children, yet all he could think about was Hornung.
For once, Paul Hornung got the better of Vince Lombardi in December 1965. On the eve of a road game against the Baltimore Colts that month, Hornung thought he wouldn’t take the field because of his ailing left arm.
On the other hand, his friend Rick Casares, who the Washington Redskins just acquired in a trade with the Chicago Bears, also thought he wouldn’t suit up that weekend.
Casares promptly set up a night out with Hornung and several girls at a restaurant halfway between Baltimore, MD, and Washington, D.C.
Hornung, who was on to Lombardi’s disciplinary ways, snuck back into his hotel room for bed check. Hornung snuck out again and didn’t return until 8:30 a.m.
When Hornung returned, he asked McGee if Lombardi had done a second bed check. McGee told him there wasn’t any and he was lucky he dodged that bullet.
Lombardi approached Hornung’s breakfast table and asked him how he felt. Hornung lied and told him he felt fine.
The Coach’s Nightmare
Lombardi then told Hornung he would start him for the game against the Colts later that day. Lo and behold, an injured Paul Hornung had five touchdowns in Green Bay’s Western Division-clinching victory against Baltimore.
#TBT Packers – Colts
Paul Hornung scores 5 TD in the Packers win. #RIP #GoPackGo
— GBP Daily (@GBPdaily) November 19, 2020
Hornung considered it one of the best games of his storied nine-year pro football career, per his 2010 autobiography.
Several days later, Hornung had 105 rushing yards and one touchdown in the Packers’ 23-12 win against the Cleveland Browns in the 1965 NFL Championship Game.
Those stories aptly summed up the relationship between Paul Hornung and Vince Lombardi from 1959 to 1966. Despite their heated confrontations, Hornung admitted he loved his head coach.
“A lot of people could never understand our relationship,” Hornung wrote in his 2010 autobiography. “He was the ultimate disciplinarian and I was the ultimate coach’s nightmare.”
An injured neck limited Hornung to just nine games in what turned out to be his final NFL season in 1966. The injury prevented him from suiting up in the Packers’ resounding 35-10 victory against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I.
End of the Line
The newly established New Orleans Saints selected Paul Hornung in the 1966 expansion draft. Regrettably, Hornung never played a single down for the Saints because his neck injury forced him to hang up his cleats during training camp.
Paul Hornung finished his stellar nine-year pro football career with 760 total points, 62 total touchdowns (50 rushing, 12 receiving), 3,711 rushing yards, 130 receptions, and 383 passing yards.
Hall of Fame head coach Vince Lombardi considered Paul Hornung “the greatest player I ever coached” and “the best all-around back ever to play football.”
Post-Football Life and Death
Paul Hornung resided in his hometown of Louisville, KY, and ventured into sports media after he retired from the National Football League in 1966. He served as a football analyst for TBS, CBS, ABC, and the Minnesota Vikings radio network.
Hornung became a member of the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame in 1975, He’s also a member of the National High School Hall of Fame, the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame, the Louisville Catholic Sports Hall of Fame, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, and the NFL 1960s All-Decade Team.
The College Football Hall of Fame inducted Paul Hornung in 1985. The Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrined him in the summer of 1986. Max McGee, his Green Bay Packers teammate, was his presenter.
Part of Hornung’s enshrinement speech reads:
“This is the greatest day of my life. I have waited a long time to get here. But this weekend I will be able to take with me forever.”
In Hornung’s 2010 autobiography, Golden Boy, he considered Hall of Fame Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre his favorite NFL football player.
The Paul Hornung Award is given annually to the top high school football player from the state of Kentucky. On the other hand, the Louisville Sports Commission gives its version of that award to the most versatile football player in the collegiate ranks every year.
Sadly, Paul Hornung passed away due to dementia on November 13, 2020. He was 84 years old.
Hornung is survived by his wife, Angela, whom he married in 1979.
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