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Paul Hornung, Notre Dame Heisman winner and star of Lombardi's Packers dynasty, dies at age 84

Frank Schwab
·3-min read

Vince Lombardi was hard on everyone. But he loved Paul Hornung.

Spend enough time listening to the old Green Bay Packers from the 1960s and they will share that if Lombardi had a favorite, it was his halfback from Notre Dame. Lombardi called Hornung "the best all-around back ever to play football.”

Hornung died at age 84 after a battle with dementia. The Louisville Sports Commission announced Hornung’s death.

Green Bay Packers halfback Paul Hornung (5) plunged over the line for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in 1960. (AP Photo)
Green Bay Packers halfback Paul Hornung (5) plunged over the line for a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers in 1960. (AP Photo)

Hornung accomplished just about everything one could hope for in a football career, including a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He famously had a good time off the field too.

Paul Hornung won a Heisman at Notre Dame

Hornung rose to fame at Notre Dame. He finished fifth in the 1955 Heisman Trophy voting and won it in 1956, though it was controversial. Hornung was a triple-threat quarterback but even in that era his numbers (three touchdowns, 13 interceptions) didn’t look like a Heisman winner. The Irish were 2-8, and Hornung is still the only Heisman winner from a losing team. Many felt Jim Brown of Syracuse, who actually finished fifth, was the best player in the country that year.

Hornung was the first pick of the 1957 draft, by the Packers. Hornung’s career started to take off in 1959, when Lombardi arrived. He made his first Pro Bowl. Hornung would be a first-team All-Pro in 1960 and 1961 as the Packers’ dynasty started. He and Jim Taylor were a fantastic backfield in Lombardi’s offense.

Hornung was one of the biggest stars on the Packers’ championship teams of 1961, 1962 and 1965, before the Super Bowl era began. When the Packers won Super Bowl I at the end of the 1966 season, Hornung didn’t play. He was in uniform but out with a pinched nerve in his neck. The New Orleans Saints took Hornung in the 1967 expansion draft but his neck wouldn’t allow him to play.

Hornung retired, having never played with another NFL team other than the Packers.

Hornung was a huge star

Hornung was one of the league’s stars as the NFL started to explode in popularity. He was also in the middle of a large controversy.

Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras were suspended for the 1963 season for betting on games. Lombardi accepted him back after his suspension was lifted.

Hornung’s partying ways were legend in Green Bay through the 1960s. His charisma is part of what made him a star, even if he wasn’t the Packers’ best player all those years.

He was a great player in his prime though. He was NFL MVP in 1961. He led the NFL in scoring three straight years, with a record 176 points in 1960 as he also handled kicking for Green Bay. Lombardi always leaned on him inside the 20-yard line and he usually delivered. Hornung scored 19 points in the Packers’ 1961 NFL championship game win over the New York Giants.

Several players from the 1960s Packers have died in 2020. Willie Davis, Willie Wood, Herb Adderley and Hornung — all Hall of Famers — all died this year.

The Lombardi Packers were arguably the most famous team in NFL history. And it’s possible nobody on that team was more famous than Hornung, the “Golden Boy.”

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