LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Hall of Famer Paul Hornung, football’s “Golden Boy” who won a Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame during the 1950s and starred at running back for the Green Bay Packers during the 1960s, died Friday, the Louisville Sports Commission announced. He was 84.
Hornung was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985 and was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the following year. He was one of only seven players to win the Heisman Trophy and be named the NFL’s most valuable player by The Associated Press. The others were Lamar Jackson, Cam Newton, Barry Sanders, Marcus Allen, Earl Campbell and O.J. Simpson, ESPN reported.
“The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Paul Hornung,” David Baker, the president and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said in a statement. "He was an outstanding player and an incredible man. Known as ‘The Golden Boy,’ Paul was above all a leader to whom the Packers looked for the big plays in the big games -- especially during the team’s dynasty years under coach Vince Lombardi in the 1960s.
“We will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration for future generations. The Hall of Fame flag will be flown at half-staff in Paul’s memory.”
Hornung won the Heisman Trophy in 1956 for a Notre Dame team that went 2-8, becoming the only player to win college football’s most coveted award while starring for a losing team. Hornung led the Fighting Irish in passing, rushing, scoring, kickoff returns, punt returns and punting, according to College Football Reference.
Hornung was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1957 NFL draft and played from 1957 to 1966. He played for four NFL championship teams for coach Vince Lombardi in Green Bay (1961, 1962, 1965, 1966) and also reached the title game in 1960.
In 1960, Hornung accounted for an NFL-record 176 points, ESPN reported. The mark stood for 46 years.
“In the middle of the field he may be only slightly better than an average ballplayer,” Lombardi once said, “but inside the 20-yard line he is one of the greatest I have ever seen. He smells that goal line.”
LaDainian Tomlinson broke Hornung’s scoring record in 2006 with 186 points on 31 touchdowns, but Hornung earned his record during a 12-game season.
Hornung had to sit out the 1963 season, along with Detroit Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras, in a gambling scandal. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended the pair for betting on NFL games and being associated with “known hoodlums.”
Reinstated in 1964, Hornung played for two more championships in Green Bay but did not play in the first Super Bowl in January 1967.
Hornung was left unprotected in the 1967 expansion draft and was chosen by the New Orleans Saints, but he decided to retire. He ended his career with 760 points on 62 touchdowns, 66 field goals and 190 extra points and led the NFL in scoring from 1959 to 1961, according to Pro Football Reference.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Green Bay Packers' legend Paul Hornung, who thrilled a generation of NFL fans with his versatility, athleticism and personality that made him a favorite of legendary coach Vince Lombardi,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Paul was a leader of Green Bay’s dynasty in the 1960s and instrumental in growing the popularity of the Packers and the National Football League. He had a tremendous impact on the field, in the locker room with his teammates and the Green Bay community from his first day as the top pick in the 1957 NFL draft to his last game, the first Super Bowl in 1967.”
After his career, Hornung worked on CBS broadcasts for games. In 2016 he sued equipment manufacturer Riddell Inc., ESPN reported. Hornung alleged that the football helmets he wore during his professional career failed to protect him from brain injury. Hornung suffered multiple concussions with the Packers and had been diagnosed with dementia, the lawsuit said.
“You get your bell rung a couple of times, get knocked out, don’t know where in the hell you are,” Hornung told WAVE-TV at the time. “It’s dangerous.”
Hornung was born on Dec. 23, 1935, in Louisville, Kentucky. He was a three-sport star at Flaget High School, WAVE reported. Hornung and prep teammate Sherrill Sipes are the only two players from the same high school to start in the Notre Dame backfield, the television station reported.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, there will be a private funeral mass for Hornung at St. Louis Bertrand Church in Louisville, followed by a private burial in Cave Hill Cemetery, WAVE reported. A public celebration of his life will be held at a later date, the television station reported.
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