The NFLs Golden Boy: Paul Hornung

The NFL’s Golden Boy, Paul Hornung, passed away at the age of 84 on November 13th, 2020. If you were to pick one player on Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packer teams that launched that dynasty in the 1960s, it would have to be Paul Hornung.

An unlikely NFL quarterback, the Heisman Trophy winner was drafted number one in 1957 to bolster the hapless Packers at time when the term “Titletown” was a distant memory. In his first two seasons Hornung was under utilized as a runner, receiver, and kicking specialist, tallying only 85 points in his first two seasons. Granted, the team went 3–9 and 1–10–1 in 1957 and 1958 respectively, but Hornung seemed to be a player without a position. A running quarterback at Notre Dame, it was probably a good thing he wasn’t throwing the ball. Then Vince Lombardi arrived in 1959.

With a keen eye for putting where it belongs, Coach Lombardi immediately made Hornung the feature back but also instilled him as a vital blocker for fullback Jim Taylor. His receiving and open field running skills left defenses wondering out how this slow-running “quarterback” was able to run all over them. The halfback option pass was a new weapon Lombardi used seeing Hornung complete 5 of 8 passes for 2 touchdowns.

1960 was his Hall Of Fame season where he racked up 176 points running, receiving, and kicking, a record that stood for 46 until LaDanian Tomlinson broke the record in 13 games (Hornung, of course accomplished the feat in 12 games). He also passed for 2 touchdowns.

A deceptively fast runner, he had the knack for putting a move on a defender as Lombardi explained: “In the middle of the field he may be only slightly better than an average ballplayer, but inside the 20-yard line he is one of the greatest I have ever seen. He smells that goal line.”

His pairing with Jim Taylor made them the most feared runners in the league, especially following the famed Packer power sweep. He led the league in scoring three straight seasons (1959-1961) before a pinched nerve in his neck and a gambling suspension sidelined his career.

 

Career Accomplishments:

• Heisman Trophy winner in 1956

• Finished nine-year career with 760 points on 62 touchdowns, 66 field goals and 190 extra points.

• NFL MVP in 1961

• Scoring leader in 1959, 1960, 1961

• Scored 176 point in 1960 in a 12-game season

• Also passed for 5 touchdowns

• He played on four championship teams (1961, ’62, ‘65 and ’66)

• Scored five touchdowns against the Baltimore Colts in 1965

• Was selected by New Orleans in the 1967 expansion draft, but never played a game for the Saints, instead retiring.

• Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.

• His #5 was unofficially retired by Vince Lombardi

 

His talent was noticed even in the White House. Hornung almost missed the Packers’ 1961 title game when he was summoned to duty by the Army, but a call from Lombardi to President John F. Kennedy led to Hornung being granted leave.

Said Kennedy in arranging the leave, “Paul Hornung isn’t going to win the war on Sunday, but the football fans of this country deserve the two best teams on the field that day.”

Hornung scored 19 points — then a title game record — on one touchdown rushing, three field goals and four PATs in the Packers’ 37-0 win over the New York Giants.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that Hornung “thrilled a generation of NFL fans with his versatility, athleticism and personality.” Goodell added that Hornung was “instrumental in growing the popularity of the Packers and the National Football League.”

Above are several RetroCards that are featured in many team sets found at RetroCards.net.