Remembering Packers Legend Paul Hornung

The Green Bay Packers lost another legend from the Lombardi Era yesterday when Hall of Fame halfback Paul Hornung died at the age of 84. Hornung was one of a kind and was considered Vince Lombardi’s favorite player, high praise considering how many greats were on the coach’s Packers teams.

Hornung was nicknamed “The Golden Boy” by the media although his teammates often called him “Goat,” short for goat shoulders for his slightly hunched posture.

Hornung won the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame back in 1956 at quarterback. He remains the only player in history to win the award for a losing team as the Fighting Irish finished just 2-8-0 that season.

In 1957, the Packers selected Hornung with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Packers had high expectations for the rookie, but in his first two seasons, he wasn’t settled in a position or role and he had minimal impact. He also struggled with the poor play of the team as the Packers finished 1-10-1 in 1958, the worst season in franchise history.

But in 1959, Lombardi became the Packers head coach and told Hornung he would be his halfback in the mold of Hall of Famer Frank Gifford who Lombardi had coached with the Giants. That was a varied role that included running, catching, blocking and throwing the halfback option pass. “The Golden Boy” took quickly to his coach’s faith and Hornung started to thrive.

In his first season under his Hall of Fame coach, Hornung enjoyed his first Pro Bowl season. He gained 681 yards on the ground while averaging 4.5-yards per carry. He ran for seven touchdowns and threw for two more on option passes. Being a former college quarterback, Hornung was always a threat to throw the football which left defenses off balance.

Hornung teamed with fullback Jim Taylor to make Lombardi’s signature play, the power sweep, run smoothly. The two blocked for each other exceptionally well and they were able to run the play to either side of the field and with either of them running the football.

Hornung was also the Packers kicker in those days and a good one for his era. He led the NFL in scoring for three straight seasons from 1959-1961 including an NFL record 176 points in just 12 games in 1960.  That record stood for 46 years until LaDainian Tomlinson broke it during a 16-game season in 2006. In 1960, Hornung ran for a league-leading 13 touchdowns and caught two touchdown passes. He was a perfect 41-for-41 on extra points and kicked 15 field goals. He also threw one touchdown pass that season although that didn’t add to his point total.

In 1961, Hornung earned All-Pro honors again and led the NFL in scoring with 146 points. In the 1961 NFL Championship Game, President John F. Kennedy famously helped Hornung get a weekend pass from the Army reserve so he could play in the title game.

Hornung responded with a strong performance, gaining 89 yards on 20 carries and scoring a rushing touchdown. He also caught three passes for 47 yards while kicking three field goals and four extra points. That gave “The Golden Boy” 19 points, a championship record that stood until it was broken by James White of the Patriots in Super Bowl LI. He was named MVP of the game.

“I've always said Hornung was probably the best all-around back in modern-day football," former Bears Hall of Fame defensive end Doug Atkins said in 1996. “He could pass. He could run. He could kick. He could catch. He could block. 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.”

In 1962, Hornung missed five games due to injury which slowed him down and limited his kicking ability. He still finished the season with 74 points and the Packers won their second straight championship.

In 1963, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Hornung and Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras for the entire season after an investigation revealed the two players bet on NFL games. Hornung only bet on the Packers to win, but the league was extremely concerned with keeping football and gambling separate, at least on an official level.

Hornung was reinstated by the league for the 1964 season, but the rust was evident, especially in his kicking. He missed an NFL-record 26 field goals that season and the Packers acquired Don Chandler to take over the kicking and punting duties the following year.

In 1965, Hornung again fought through injuries, but he still showed flashes of his greatness, especially in big games. In Week 13, Hornung almost single-handedly defeated the Colts in the fog in Baltimore. Hornung ran for three touchdowns and caught two more while gaining 176 total yards in the Packers 42-27 victory.

In the NFL Championship Game against Cleveland that year, Hornung ran for 105 yards and a touchdown as the Packers ran past the Cleveland Browns for Lombardi’s third NFL title, 23-12.

1966 would be Hornung’s last season in Green Bay. A neck injury limited him to just seven games and he was the only player not to take the field in the Packers 35-10 win over the Chiefs in Super Bowl I. After that season, the Packers made Hornung available in the expansion draft and the New Orleans Saints selected him. Lombardi was upset to lose his favorite player, but the Packers had already drafted Donny Anderson and Jim Grabowski to replace Hornung and Jim Taylor in the backfield.

Hornung’s injured neck prevented him from ever playing for the Saints and he announced his retirement in 1967.

On the field, Hornung was considered a clutch player. Off the field, he and teammate Max McGee were single and earned reputations for going out late and going out on their fair share of dates with different ladies. It was Hornung who was with McGee the night before Super Bowl I which McGee played with a hangover after staying out until after 6 AM on game day.

Hornung was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986, one year after entering the College Football Hall of Fame. He would have entered Canton sooner if not for his gambling suspension which held back many from voting for him. He lived long enough to see betting on football games become legal in many parts of the United States.

After retiring from football, Hornung remained involved with the game. He served as a broadcaster for CBS’ NFL coverage in the 1970s and provided color commentary for Notre Dame and LSU games in the 1970s and 80s. He also did several commercials for Light Beer from Miller which were extremely popular in the late 70s. He also appeared in films like “Semi-Tough” and “The Devil’s Brigade” and was a host on the TV show, “Greatest Sports Legends.”

Hornung was also always heavily into horse racing and was a fixture at the Kentucky Derby in his native Louisville every year.

Hornung returned to Green Bay for many alumni events and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1975.

Hornung was larger than life and a product of a different era. You don’t see running backs double as kickers in the modern NFL and there are no more straightaway kickers in the league anymore. He was still active in the Army reserves while playing in the NFL, something we don’t see in 2020.

Hornung was a typical larger-than-life athlete from the 1950s and 60s. He was a playboy and a larger than life figure who had good looks, celebrity and elite athletic ability. He won a Heisman Trophy, an NFL MVP and four NFL championships and always seemed to be smiling and enjoying every minute of being Paul Hornung.

Hall of Fame guard and teammate Jerry Kramer added, “He was always the star of our team, even after he stopped being the best player.”

Hornung is the latest of Vince Lombardi’s Packers to leave recently, joining former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Herb Adderley who died just two weeks ago. He will always be remembered as an all-time Packer and football great. RIP Golden Boy.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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Comments (18)

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Coldworld's picture

November 14, 2020 at 12:41 pm

I think it’s safe to say that we won’t see his like again in the NFL. I’m truly glad he will always be a Packer.

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GilMartin's picture

November 14, 2020 at 06:33 pm

Agreed, Coldworld. They don't make them like that anymore. A different player from a very different era and probably the guy who personified that era in many ways. He will be missed. Thanks as always for commenting. Always good to hear from you.

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Since'61's picture

November 14, 2020 at 01:22 pm

Copied from comment on yesterday’s thread.
My first favorite Packer player. I watched Paul
Hornung score 19 points against the NY Giants in the 1961 NFL Championship game. He was brilliant. I became a Packers fan watching him that day.

It wasn’t mentioned in the article but Hornung scored 176 points in a 12 game season. That’s nearly 15 points per game by one player. He was a great runner and receiver. He blocked like a guard, kicked FGs and PATs plus he could throw the option pass very effectively.

He knew how to play every position on the offense. Marv Fleming was threatened with losing his starting TE role because Lombardi was unhappy with his run blocking. Hornung spent time with Fleming to help him with his blocking. Fleming became an effective blocking TE and kept his starting role with the Packers.

Hornung also handled kickoffs for a few games and even punted in an emergency. He was a complete football player. We haven’t seen a player like him since and I’m confident that we never will again.

He was a great player and a great Packer. He will be missed. Thanks Paul for all the great plays. RIP. Since ‘61

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GilMartin's picture

November 14, 2020 at 06:22 pm

I did mention the 176 points in 12 games in 1960. Hornung was incredible and one of a kind. That kind of versatility isn't seen any more and won't be any time soon. Kicking, blocking, catching, running and passing. He had the image off the field and backed it up on the field and he was always seemingly having fun. RIP Golden Boy. You will be missed. Thanks for the comment, Since'61 and for sharing your memories.

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Andomar911's picture

November 14, 2020 at 02:17 pm

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Andomar911's picture

November 14, 2020 at 02:17 pm

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Handsback's picture

November 14, 2020 at 03:03 pm

I was always a Jim Taylor guy, but Hornung was so much more dynamic. The halfback pass option would have been deadly in today's game.

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GilMartin's picture

November 14, 2020 at 06:23 pm

Agreed, Handsback. Hornung would put Taysom Hill to shame. The option pass, the blocking, the pass catching and the running and that doesn't even mention the kicking game. 176 points in 12 games. Insane! Thanks for the comment, Handsback.

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Starrbrite's picture

November 14, 2020 at 04:23 pm

Not a comment meant in any way to denigrate Hornung; he was the best. However, I’ve often considered what might have been had he made even 50% of his field goals in 1964; I believe we would have won an additional championship?

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GilMartin's picture

November 14, 2020 at 06:27 pm

The kicking in 1964 was a big problem. I wonder what would have happened in 1963 if he wasn't suspended. I bet the 11-2-1 Packers top the 11-1-2 Bears at least once if Hornung was healthy and in the lineup. Then of course, he wouldn't be rusty in 1964. But I can't change history. Hornung was a deserving HOFer and an all-time Packer. Thanks for the comment, Starrbrite.

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Stroh's picture

November 14, 2020 at 05:23 pm

RIP #5. You'll be missed.

Judging by the story, it would appear even the 1st overall pick in the '57 draft needed a couple yrs to develop. With as complicated as the game is today we certainly shouldn't expect any 1st rd pick to be any different! Maybe some fans will start to realize that before declaring anyone is a bust.

Sure would be nice! Alas they won't be bright enough to make that connection!!!

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GilMartin's picture

November 14, 2020 at 06:29 pm

Thanks for the comment, Stroh. I wonder what social media would have said about Hornung during his career. Or what he and Max McGee would have been able to get away with if there were cell phones with cameras in every bar in Green Bay in 1960. As for busts, people are often in a rush to judge....

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HighPlainsDrifter's picture

November 15, 2020 at 02:59 am

A wonderful remembrance Gil, thank you so much. Mr. Hornung is adored here in his native Louisville as much as he is in Green Bay and by Packers fans worldwide.

Again, his passing is an immeasurable loss.

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GilMartin's picture

November 15, 2020 at 11:11 am

Thanks for commenting HighPlainsDrifter. Hornung was an institution and such a part of the culture in Packer Nation, in Louisville and beyond. He will be missed.

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atundraman's picture

November 15, 2020 at 11:01 am

Paul was Namath, before Broadway Joe hit New York. Ask any of your grandmothers about the Golden Boy.

He was the guy with the ball in his hands on the most famous play in football history, "The Packers Sweep".

There should be hundreds of comments on this thread, he was THAT important in Packers history.

#GoPackGo

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GilMartin's picture

November 15, 2020 at 11:13 am

He was special, atundraman, no doubt. Considering he retired after 1966, you'd have to be in your 60s to remember seeing him play. Most Packers fans have no memory of him as a player. I like the Namath analogy. Thanks for commenting.

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