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Paul Hornung
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Talent Too Great To Ignore

1956 Heisman winner Paul Hornung

How good was Paul Hornung? Not even the worst season in Notre Dame history could prevent him from winning the Heisman Trophy. In 1956, the Fighting Irish went 2-8 and were outscored by 159 points, their largest point deficit in a season. Yet the man whose NFL coach, Vince Lombardi, would label him "the most versatile man who ever played the game," somehow overcame that miserable season to win the Heisman. The Louisville, Ky., native garnered 72 more points than Tennessee's Johnny Majors and 93 more than Oklahoma's Tommy McDonald to win. McDonald had the most first-place votes (205 to Hornung's 197) but was named on 69 fewer ballots. The vote was heavily regionalized that year, with Majors backed in the South, McDonald and teammate Jerry Tubbs in the Southwest, Syracuse running back Jim Brown in the East and Stanford quarterback John Brodie in the West. With Notre Dame's nationwide appeal, Hornung was able to pull votes everywhere -- not just the Midwest. The program's mystique and publicity power were near their apex at that time. Fighting Irish players won four Heismans from 1943 to '53 and had a top 10 vote getter every year but one from 1941 to '56. Many voters were accustomed to simply putting the best Notre Dame player on their ballot every year. But Hornung was more than just a pretty face at a glam program. His ability to run, throw, catch, tackle and kick was special, even in an era of multitasking players. Hornung's talent was readily obvious to the NFL, as the Green Bay Packers made him the No. 1 pick in the draft. He went on to lead the league in scoring three straight years and was named MVP in 1960 and 1961. Regardless of team record, Hornung's talent was too great to ignore.
-- Pat Forde


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