The Lass Word: Brush With Greatness, My Paul Hornung Story

A most unlikely dream comes true.

As a boy growing up in the 1960's in the country just outside of West Bend, Wisconsin, I vividly remember Sunday afternoons watching the Packers with my Dad on our black and white TV.    These were the Lombardi glory years.   Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Max McGee, Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke, et al.   Five championships in seven years.

Everyone had their own favorite player.   For me it was number five, Paul Hornung.   I was spellbound watching him carry the ball on the vaunted Packer sweep.   He was so smooth, always setting up his blocks perfectly, patiently waiting for the hole, and then running to daylight.   He was also the placekicker on the team, and, as a former quarterback, threw a handful of passes every year.   His All-American good looks and zesty personality made him The Golden Boy....and my idol.

In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined that, 15 years later, I would be sitting next to him in a broadcast booth at Lambeau Field.

In that era, the Packers were allowed to put the TV rights to their preseason games up for bid to all the local stations.   WBAY-TV had outbid the competition and was authorized to be the flagship station for the statewide network.   Naturally, WBAY would want to use that platform to promote its own talent.   So, by default, whomever happened to be the sports anchor at WBAY got to be the preseason TV play-by-play voice of the Packers.   In 1979, that was me. 

With the rights secured, I was informed that my color analyst in the booth with me would be none other than the Golden Boy himself, Paul Hornung.   Hornung had already been doing color for national telecasts with CBS, and was accustomed to working with some of the best play-by-play announcers in the nation.   How would he react to doing a game with a young local yokel like me?

By the night of the first game, I was a nervous wreck.   I arrived in the booth two hours before kickoff and began pouring over depth charts and bios.   Paul strolled in about 20 minutes before air time.   I can't say for sure, but I don't think he did a lot of homework for the game,   He didn't seem to know much about the new players on the team, and mispronounced some of the names.   No matter.   He was Paul friggin' Hornung for godsake, and I was in awe of his presence.   And that just made me all the more tense.

By the time the game started, I was so jittery that, on the Packers first punt, I thought I saw number 80 make the tackle on the coverage (in reality, it was number 30).   So, without thinking clearly, I blurted out "tackle on the play by James Lofton".   Whereupon Hornung burst out laughing, and then began making fun of me on the air for putting one of the great receivers in Packer history on the punt coverage team.

I should have been embarrassed.   But, strangely, my gaffe, and his reaction to it, seemed to put me at ease and settle me down.   I guess I figured if Hornung felt comfortable enough working with me to needle me like we were old buddies, it must mean he liked me, or at least respected me and regarded me as a peer.   I have no idea if that was actually true, but by golly, that was the way I chose to perceive it.

Whatever the case, from that point on. my call of the game went smoothly.   Paul and I (see? now I'm calling him by his first name) seemed to click together.   He was such a pro.   There was a lot of easy, natural interaction between us.    Afterward the reviews of the telecast were good.   It was, and remains, one of the most exciting nights of my life.

Hornung and I would go on to do the games together for four years.   It would not be accurate to say we were close, but I looked forward to seeing him every summer and catching up on his adventures.   He knew the game of football so well.   The thing that separates a good analyst from a bad one, is that a good analyst tells you things you didn't know, instead of just stating the obvious.   Paul was so good at that.   He didn't just chime in to say that Greg Koch missed the block.   Everybody could see that.   He went on to explain the flaw in Koch's technique, and how it should be corrected.   Bart Starr was the head coach at the time, and Hornung, having played with Starr through the glory years, knew exactly the way he was thinking.   During commercial breaks, he would tell me the next few plays Green Bay would run, and he was usually spot on.   I learned so much just sitting next to him.

After the 1982 season, my career took me away from Green Bay.   I never saw nor spoke with Paul after that, until about 12 years later when I was asked to introduce him at a sports banquet in Birmingham, Alabama.   I wasn't even sure he would remember me.   But when I saw him before the event, he broke into a big smile, gave me a hug, and said "Hey Ken, has James Lofton made any tackles on punt coverage lately?"   We immediately started reminiscing about our days in the booth together.   Once again, he made me feel accepted, important.

That was the last time I saw or spoke to him.   The great Paul Hornung passed away last week at the age of 84.   Since his days carrying the football for Lombardi's Packers, there has been a long list of notable running backs wearing the green and gold.   A list that includes Elijah Pitts, Donny Anderson, John Brockington, Macarthur Lane, Eddie Lee Ivery, Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens, Ahman Green and Aaron Jones.   Chances are you have your favorite.   For me, it will always be The Golden Boy.....my brush with greatness.

Rest in peace Paul.   Thanks for the memories.   This country boy from West Bend will never forget you. 

 

OUTTAKES

►  Greg  Jennings is a perfect example of a bad color analyst.   He feels he needs to say something, but has nothing to add, so he just states the obvious.   I do like his partner Brock Huard.

►  Colts quarterback Philip Rivers always looks like he's on his last legs.   But, according to SI.com, in four games against the Packers, he has averaged 373 passing yards per game.   Gonna have to get after him.

►  Revealing stat from Pro Football Reference.   Thus far this year, the Colts defense has missed 35 tackles.   By comparison, the Packers D has missed 71.

►  There's a tendency to think the return of Allen Lazard will help Davante Adams, but I really think it will help MVS even more.

►  The Colts are 2.5 point favorites in this game, but I just have a feeling the Packers are going to rise to the occasion.   

 

 

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Ken Lass is a former Green Bay television sports anchor and 43 year media veteran, a lifelong Packers fan, and a shareholder.

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Comments (8)

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therightone's picture

November 19, 2020 at 04:03 pm

A great story. Didn't know this about Hornung. Thanks for sharing.

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ricky's picture

November 19, 2020 at 05:22 pm

"Hey Ken, has James Lofton made any tackles on punt coverage lately?" Twelve years after the incident? That is both hilarious and very touching. Good on him for remembering, and on you for being such a good sport. And as far as the game Sunday, I was pessimistic, but for some reason, I'm thinking this could well be a repeat of the 2012 Houston game. At least I'm hoping, and hopeful. And who knows, maybe someone will have MVS making a tackle on special teams?

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ricky's picture

November 19, 2020 at 05:22 pm

"Hey Ken, has James Lofton made any tackles on punt coverage lately?" Twelve years after the incident? That is both hilarious and very touching. Good on him for remembering, and on you for being such a good sport. And as far as the game Sunday, I was pessimistic, but for some reason, I'm thinking this could well be a repeat of the 2012 Houston game. At least I'm hoping, and hopeful. And who knows, maybe someone will have MVS making a tackle on special teams?

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Starrbrite's picture

November 19, 2020 at 08:19 pm

Outstanding article —love the sentiment. Speaking of sentiment, you echo my thoughts concerning Jennings; he adds little or nothing to the telecast.

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

November 19, 2020 at 10:58 pm

Enjoyed the story and I think the outtake on Jennings was kind. I and I believe many other Packer fans have little respect or affection for him.

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Tundraboy's picture

November 19, 2020 at 11:28 pm

Thanks. Brought back a lot of great memories of Paul as a broadcaster, especially looked forward to those games and Lofton!

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HighPlainsDrifter's picture

November 20, 2020 at 05:11 am

Well done Ken, an excellent job of relating your interactions with Mr. Hornung. We are lucky to have someone with your talent and experience writing here at CHTV.

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KnockTheSnotOutOfYou's picture

November 21, 2020 at 07:18 pm

That was a very touching and beautiful story Ken!

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