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Hornung excelled on the field and had fun off it
By Ron Flatter
Special to ESPN.com
"It was training camp, and we snuck out. Max [McGee] went back to the room. He was scared [Vince] Lombardi would blow his stack. And he [Lombardi] hollered, "Hornung, what do you want to be, a playboy or a football player?" And I said, "I want to be a playboy," Hornung said on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series.
It's been a long time since his days of blond hair and youthful athleticism.
Like Mickey Mantle, there is a similar majesty that goes along with being Hornung. Whether he's at a Notre Dame game or a reunion of fellow Hall of Famers, there is a charisma he continues to carry well into his seventh decade of life and fourth decade of retirement.
He was the All-American triple-threat from Notre Dame who won the Heisman Trophy in 1956. That might have been enough for Hornung, who said years later, "I didn't grow up even thinking about the pros. The idea of being a professional just didn't cross my mind."
Hornung's career with the Green Bay Packers was not just a passing thought. It was more of a running and kicking fancy, complete with a nine-year average of 4.2 yards per carry, 130 catches, 66 field goals and 760 points. His 176 points in 1960 remain an NFL record, even though the league has long since expanded from 12 to 16 games.
A member of four championship teams, Vince Lombardi called him "the most versatile man who ever played the game."
But Hornung also is remembered for being suspended for a season because he bet on NFL games, sometimes on his own team. "It was a carefree, thoughtless thing I did," Hornung said.
Still, his celebrity went relatively untarnished. Perhaps it was because he was so forthright in admitting to his mistake. And maybe it was because he used his year off to work the lecture circuit, cultivate endorsements, broadcast football games and ... well, as he put it, "women weren't exactly running away from me because of my suspension."
Despite the scandal, Hornung was still remembered fondly enough two decades later when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was born on Dec. 23, 1935, in Louisville, a place he still calls home. A standout athlete at Flaget High School, Hornung was expected by many to stay close to home and play college football for Bear Bryant at Kentucky. Instead, he followed his mother's wishes and went to Notre Dame.
After playing his sophomore season as a backup fullback, Hornung blossomed as a halfback and safety during his junior year. He finished fourth in the nation in total offense with 1,215 yards and six touchdowns. His two touchdowns on offense and two interceptions on defense spurred a victory over No. 4 Navy, and his touchdown pass and field goal beat Iowa. In a loss to USC, Hornung ran and threw for 354 yards, the best in the nation in 1955.
In his sophomore and junior years, Notre Dame went 17-3. His senior year, when he was moved to quarterback and finished second in the nation in total offense with 1,337 yards, it was a different story. Hornung was about the only positive in a dismal season for the Fighting Irish, who went 2-8, their first losing season in 23 years.
Using a bonus selection, the Packers made Hornung the first choice in the 1957 NFL draft. It appeared his professional tenure would become an undistinguished footnote to his collegiate career. The Packers went a combined 4-19-1 under two coaches during Hornung's first two seasons.
All that changed in 1959, when Vince Lombardi arrived in Green Bay. Lombardi made Hornung his starting halfback and paired him with fullback Jim Taylor to create one of the most productive running-back tandems in NFL history. With Hornung playing the role of "Mr. Outside" and Taylor "Mr. Inside," the Green Bay offense began to perfect Lombardi's "Packer Sweep," each back blocking for the other to grind out yards, points and wins.
Hornung, the glamour boy, led the league in scoring three consecutive years (1959-61). Winning his first of two straight Player of the Year awards in 1960, Hornung notched his record 176 points when he ran for 13 touchdowns, caught two TD passes, connected on 15-of-28 field-goal attempts and converted on all 41 extra-point tries.
The next season, he was voted the MVP by the Associated Press when he scored 146 points. Especially tough to tackle around the goal line, Hornung registered a personal high when he scored four touchdowns and 33 points in a 45-7 Green Bay victory over the Baltimore Colts.
Meanwhile, the Packers had become legitimate championship contenders for the first time since World War II. After losing the championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960, they dominated the sixties, winning five of the next seven championships and leading fans to anoint Green Bay as "Titletown."
In the climactic 37-0 victory over the New York Giants in 1961, Hornung scored 19 points, still the record for an NFL championship game.
Pro football was reaching new heights in popularity, and Hornung, Jim Brown and John Unitas were fueling it. The "Golden Boy" was a shooting star on a Green Bay team that would produce 10 Hall of Famers plus Lombardi.
Although the Packers repeated their championship in 1962 (beating the Giants 16-7 in the title game), injuries began to catch up with Hornung. Those would be nothing compared with the absence he was about to face.
Hearing a steady stream of rumors about NFL players being involved with gamblers, Commissioner Pete Rozelle ordered an investigation. The 3½-month probe became a sensation, and Karras was at the eye of the storm. Hornung's name rarely came up, at least publicly.
In January 1963, Hornung was called to Manhattan by Rozelle. Said Hornung, "It was one of the few times I've ever come to New York that I wasn't looking for a date."
Like Karras, Hornung took a polygraph test and passed it, admitting he had bet on games but never against his own team.
Finally, on April 17, 1963, Rozelle issued his sentences, suspending Hornung and Karras indefinitely and fining them $2,000 each. Lions coach George Wilson and five other Detroit players also were fined. While Karras and the Lions protested their punishments, Hornung was contrite. During his suspension, Hornung often called Rozelle's office to clear everything from his attendance at the Kentucky Derby to his writing a magazine story about the NFL.
Hornung and Karras were reinstated 11 months later, on March 16, 1964. Hornung played all 14 games that year, scoring five touchdowns and making 12 field goals en route to a team-leading 107 points. Even though his production fell off during the Packers' 1965 and '66 championship years, Hornung still had enough left to victimize the Colts in a big way again, scoring a team-record five touchdowns in a 42-27 win in 1965 at Baltimore. He also ran for 105 yards in the Packers' 23-12 championship victory over the Cleveland Browns.
After an injury-riddled 1966 and watching the Packers win the first Super Bowl from the bench, Hornung was one of 11 Packers exposed to the expansion draft used to stock the New Orleans Saints. Selected by the Saints and signed to a hefty contract, Hornung retired in July rather than risk permanent injury.
Hornung became a success off the field as a real-estate investor and businessman. He stays close to his "Golden Boy" roots on weekends, continuing to work actively as a television football analyst.
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