On the second Saturday in June a 66-year-old man in a sport
coat, with flowing gray hair and a prodigious midsection, stood
at the curb outside the Surrey Suite Hotel in New York City,
awaiting his ride to the Belmont Stakes. From the chaos of
Manhattan traffic came a piercing voice: "Hey, Golden Boy!" Paul
Hornung is not so golden anymore, and certainly not a boy, yet
people still see him as he once was. Is it the nickname? The
everlasting imprint of the Lombardi era? Or Notre Dame and the
Heisman? Is it all those wild stories they once heard?
Eight days later Hornung sat lakeside at a festival in Tomah,
Wis., dispensing autographs with former Green Bay Packers
teammate Max McGee, connecting townsfolk to the team's glorious
past. McGee signed from a stack of artist's prints depicting his
famous two-touchdown performance in the first Super Bowl. ("I
sort of remember that day," McGee, who had stayed out all night
on the eve of the game, tells people, a well-practiced line that
he delivers with convincing fogginess.) Hornung affixed his
signature to a classic shot, a photograph from 1960 in which he
is captured running onto the field at the start of a game, sun
illuminating his blond curls, eye black applied to his
cheekbones, the Pack's green-and-yellow helmet dangling from his
right hand. "These guys were the greatest--real football
players," said Chuck Roeske, 62, a maintenance machinist at the
local VA hospital and a lifelong Packers fan, after getting his
autographs. "Paul Hornung, he was the Golden Boy, you know."
Nearly half a century has passed since the afternoon in 1954
when Hornung, an 18-year-old sophomore-to-be from Louisville,
played in Notre Dame's spring football game and heralded such
great promise that a sportswriter from Hornung's hometown wrote
words to the effect that the Golden Dome at last had found its
Golden Boy. America was nearing the end of its age of grand
nicknames (the Brown Bomber, the Yankee Clipper, the Splendid
Splinter), but what a moniker this was, freighted with
And what a life the man has lived, worthy of the title. He was a
Fighting Irish quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy and went
on to run the fabled Green Bay sweep behind Jerry Kramer and
Fuzzy Thurston. Better yet, Hornung was the paragon of male
fantasy, the star with a woman on each arm (every night!) who
could party all week and win with style on Sunday.
Hornung walked away from the game at 31, finished by a neck
injury that has left his left arm withered and dangling. But he
had already jump-started his life beyond football by investing
wisely, and now he owns part of a hugely successful business and
chunks of real estate all over his native city. Once suspended
from the NFL for gambling, he still thrives on action,
especially at the racetrack. (He brags that he bet $200 to win
on 70-1 Belmont Stakes winner Sarava, a payoff that was worth
more than $14,000.) Yet he derives as much pleasure from giving
money away as from earning it or winning it. About 18 months ago
he sold his Heisman Trophy for $250,000, using the money to
endow academic scholarships for Notre Dame students from the
Louisville area. If you send him a piece of memorabilia to be
autographed, Hornung will sign it and send it back with a note
requesting that you write a check to Louisville's Sister Visitor
Program, which helps provide food and clothing for people in the
poor west end of the city.
"People always said he was a playboy because women loved him,"
says former Packers teammate Ron Kramer. "That's true, they did.
But his friends loved him too. And their wives and kids too. And
anybody else who was lucky enough to meet him. He's charming and
generous and just a beautiful guy to know." Late in life the
debauchery is gone (most of it, anyway), but the joie de vivre
For his first 18 years he was just Paul, a kid from Louisville's
west end who lived with his mother, Loretta, in a second-floor
apartment over a grocery store. (His father, Paul, was an
insurance executive on Long Island who eventually moved back to
Louisville.) Hornung grew into a terrific athlete at Flaget
High--a 6'2", 200-pound split T quarterback who could run, throw
and kick--and was recruited by all the major college powers.
Hornung wanted desperately to attend Kentucky and play for its
new coach, Paul (Bear) Bryant, but his mother, a devout
Catholic, wanted just as desperately for him to play for Notre
Dame. "I was so impressed by Coach Bryant, and I wanted to play
for him, but I couldn't say no to my mother," says Hornung. "It
just wouldn't have been right."
Four years later he won the Heisman, passing for 917 yards and
running for another 420 while doubling on special teams, as a
kicker and return man. He became the only player from a losing
(2-8) team to win the statue in its 67-year history. Green Bay
selected Hornung with the first pick in the 1957 NFL draft and
moved him to running back, though early on he spent some time at
quarterback. For two seasons he was a forgettable player on a
poor team. In '59, Vince Lombardi arrived and everything
changed. He made Hornung, who by then weighed more than 220
pounds, the focal point of the Green Bay power sweep, utilizing
his gliding speed and natural cutting instincts. Hornung won
back-to-back NFL MVP awards in 1960, when he scored 176 points
(an NFL record that still stands), and '61, when Lombardi's
Packers won the first of five league titles in seven years.
"He was a great blocker, he could catch the ball, and he was a
better runner close to the goal line than anybody I've ever
seen," says Ron Kramer. "But he did a lot of other things for
the team too. He kept [fullback] Jimmy Taylor in line when all
Jimmy cared about was how many yards he got. He took all the
s--- that Vinny dished out in practice, because he just could.
Some guys Vinny had to treat differently, like Bart [Starr]. But
Paul could take it, and Vinny knew that."
Of course, the Golden Boy was more than a football player. He
was a man who lived long nights, indulging a voracious appetite
for excess. He was Namath before Namath. In David Maraniss's
1999 book, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,
the late journalist Dick Schaap describes a week he spent with
the Packers and Hornung in the autumn of 1961: "At three, he'd
come home, mix a pitcher of martinis and drink martinis until
six o'clock with [Ron] Kramer and the others. Then they'd go out
to dinner, a group of players. Scotch before dinner. Wine with
dinner. Brandy after dinner. Then back on scotch. Every day. I
lost count by the time it had reached more than sixty just how
many drinks he had in that week leading up to the Browns game.
Also, he never went to bed before four in the morning, he never
went to bed alone, and he never repeated himself."
The stories have the feel of mythology. "But they're all true,"
says McGee. "Those and a whole lot of others, probably worse.
And Lombardi knew where all of us were at all times. But with
Paul, especially, he didn't make a lot of noise, because he
liked Paul and Paul was such a money player."
In more ways than one. Hornung was suspended for the 1963 season
by commissioner Pete Rozelle after admitting that he had bet on
NFL games. The suspension is an ugly part of Hornung's legacy,
yet in Hornung's mind it could have been much worse had he not
stared down Rozelle in their meetings. "Rozelle had me, and I
knew he had me," Hornung says. "But I told him, 'Pete, we both
know that other guys are betting. I know who they are, and I am
not answering questions about anybody else. But if I go to
Washington [where a Senate subcommittee was investigating
gambling] and raise my right hand, this whole league is in
trouble.'" Hornung says he wasn't bluffing, and Rozelle blinked.
Hornung took his suspension. Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex
Karras was also suspended. ("He was stupid," Hornung says. "They
didn't have anything on him, but he confessed anyway.") It
helped the league avoid a larger scandal.
Three years later Hornung was all but finished. A neck injury
first sustained when Tom Brookshier of the Philadelphia Eagles
drilled him in the 1960 NFL Championship Game was made worse
when the Bears' Doug Buffone clotheslined him in the 10th game
of the '66 season. Eight weeks later Hornung was the only Packer
who didn't play in Super Bowl I. "Lombardi asked me if I wanted
to go in for a few plays just to say I played," Hornung says. "I
said, 'Nah.'" About a month later New Orleans took Hornung in
the expansion draft. But he never played a down for the Saints;
he retired before the season started.
More than 30 years later Hornung sits in a booth at the Delta
Restaurant and Lounge, an old-fashioned businessman's lunch
joint in downtown Louisville. He orders a ham steak
sandwich--"With yellow mustard; make sure it's yellow, not
brown," he barks good-naturedly at a waitress he calls
"Kid"--and wolfs it down. Hornung has been eating at the Delta
for years. "Same people, every day," he says. "In and out in
half an hour, and they make a good little sandwich. Nothing
fancy." A thirtysomething man dressed in a sharp business suit
passes by. "My stockbroker," says Hornung. "I just switched to
him a little while ago because he's young and he likes to
gamble, and so do I. The stock market. That's legal gambling for
Money has never been a problem. Back in the late '50s, when
Hornung didn't know if his pro football career would last two
seasons or 10, he sent all his paychecks home to a family
friend, Henry Hoffmann, who began investing in real estate in
the Louisville area. Hornung now owns a building with more than
600 apartments, ground leases on many businesses and, with
Leonard Lyles, a former Baltimore Colts and San Francisco 49ers
defensive back who also grew up in the west end, a shopping
center. Along with the estate of his late friend and partner
Frank Metts, Hornung is also part owner of Golden Foods/Golden
Brands, a vegetable- and soybean-oil company in Louisville that
Hornung says did more than $175 million in sales last year and
counts Frito-Lay and McDonald's among its customers. Recently he
had 2,000 Paul Hornung bobblehead dolls made and, much to his
amazement, more than half of them have sold.
"He's got great business instincts," says Bob Stallings,
Hornung's Louisville attorney. "He's had a few losers, but his
winners far outnumber his losers."
Hornung was among the first wave of pro football players to move
directly from the field to the broadcast booth, working first
for a CBS affiliate in Chicago for two years and then for 11
more seasons doing NFL games for the network. He has been a part
of Notre Dame broadcasts for 33 years, the last two as host of
the pregame and halftime radio shows. "Best job in TV or radio,"
Hornung says. He remains passionately involved with his alma
mater. He has missed only a handful of games in three decades,
has pledged more than $500,000 to the school and has endowed
those scholarships. Yet he hasn't been afraid to criticize Notre
Dame's football program.
Example 1: "The whole [George] O'Leary thing was absolutely
ridiculous. In the first place they should have been able to
hire a better coach. And how do you let the resume thing happen?
That's Kevin White's mistake. He's the athletic director."
Example 2: "They've got to do something about the academic
standards. They need more urban athletes, and unfortunately a
lot of those kids can't get in under the current standards. They
make everybody take calculus! That's ridiculous. The priests
don't understand what to do anymore."
His outbursts are like thunderstorms momentarily blocking the
sun. Most of Hornung's life is spent in good cheer. He has been
married for 23 years to his second wife, Angela, 55. She spots
him three shots a side when they play golf at either of their
two Louisville country clubs, and they are decorating a new home
with Hornung's collection of celebrity art, including works by
Tony Bennett, Peter Falk, Anthony Quinn and Red Skelton. Putting
Hornung's football trophies on display will be more difficult.
"He's not a trophy person," says Angela. "He's strange about
them. The Heisman had spent time in the garage before he sold it."
On the first weekend in May, every year, Hornung hosts a Kentucky
Derby party at his home, with dozens of guests from Louisville,
South Bend, Green Bay and far beyond. "It's for Paul's friends,"
says Stallings. "That's a lot of people." Time surely stops on
nights like these, when Hornung lifts a glass and toasts a long
life lived fully. "If I could be born again and come back as
anybody I wanted," says Hornung, "I'd be myself again. I've been
lucky, about as lucky as a man could be." A boy no more, but
still golden after all.
week and win with style on Sunday.
few losers, but his winners far outnumber his losers."
sun. Most of his life is spent in good cheer.