Paul Hornung’s accomplishments are almost too numerous to list: 1956 Heisman Trophy winner, two-time NFL Player of the Year with the Green Bay Packers, three-time NFL leading scorer, but one feat on the field stands out above the rest.
“My proudest accomplishment was when (famous Chicago Bears coach) George Halas called me a son of a bitch,” said Hornung, 75. “And I told him, “˜Thank you coach. If you think I’m a son of a bitch “¦ you’ve made my day.’ ”
It’s no doubt Hornung was frustrating Bears defenders when the coach cursed him.
In nine seasons playing halfback for the Packers, Hornung scored 62 touchdowns and kicked 190 extra points and 66 field goals.
“The Golden Boy,” as he was nicknamed while playing for Notre Dame, was known for his versatility in college, playing a variety of positions on both offense and defense.
For that reason, the Louisville Sports Commission created the Paul Hornung Award to honor the college football player who demonstrates the most versatility. The award will be presented on Tuesday, Jan. 25, at the Galt House Hotel & Suites.
Hornung rose from humble beginnings to become a football great.
“I lived right across the street from the Marine Hospital in Portland, so every day of my youth, I can remember kicking the football,” he said. “I’d go over there by myself “¦ and I’d kick.”
If he wasn’t playing pick-up football with neighborhood kids, he was playing basketball or baseball.
“I’ve played all sports since I can remember,” he said.
After a fine career at Flaget High School in Louisville’s West End, he was recruited by University of Kentucky coach Bear Bryant. Hornung’s idol was UK quarterback Babe Parilli.
“I remember Bear Bryant bringing Babe Parilli to Louisville to meet me, and that was quite a thrill for a high school kid,” he said. “I wanted to go to Kentucky, but my mother wanted me to go to Notre Dame. She was a Catholic lady. Those were the days when the youngsters went to where their parents wanted them to go, not like today.”
In his time at Notre Dame, Hornung played quarterback, kicker, halfback and safety.
“In college I don’t think there’s ever been anybody who’s played more all around than I did,” he said. “Back then, you had to play defense. You had to play both ways.”
Hornung headed to the Packers as the first selection in the 1957 NFL Draft. He played halfback for legendary coach Vince Lombardi.
“He was a great coach, a great motivator,” he said. “He was the best motivator of all the coaches – of course I’m prejudiced.”
Hornung’s last game was Super Bowl I, a game he didn’t play in due to a neck injury, which led to his retirement.
“(Lombardi) asked me if I wanted to go in in the fourth quarter, and I said, “˜No,’” Hornung said. “I was the only guy who didn’t play.”
He doesn’t seem to regret it. He had been cleared to play, but a doctor told him later that he risked being paralyzed if he continued to play.
So how does someone become a top athlete?
“You have to be talented. You have some kind of natural ability to play college ball, high school even,” Hornung said. “You gotta want to play. If you’re a lazy bastard, you ain’t gonna make it.”
Four questions with Paul Hornung
Who’s the best player in the NFL today?
“Michael Vick. I think he should be MVP.”
Best players you ever played against?
Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers and Jim Brown.
Best coach of all time?
“Lombardi, of course. Although you have to say George Halas. If it wasn’t for him, there wouldn’t be pro football.”
Proudest accomplishment off the field?
“My work with the Sister Visitor Center in the West End “¦ and helping the Portland Museum, which is two doors from where I grew up.”
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Jacob Glassner, News Editor/Plate Spinner
Jacob usually has his eyes glued to a computer screen, editing stories and making sure the paper gets out the door each week. Multi-tasking is his modus operandi – similar to the plate spinners you’d see on the old “Ed Sullivan Show.” Turn ons: freshly-sharpened pencils. Turn offs: exclamation points!!!