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Still Golden
Tim Layden
July 15, 2002
A fabled Heisman winner at Notre Dame and a Hall of Famer with the Packers transferred his Midas touch to his business enterprises
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July 15, 2002

Still Golden

A fabled Heisman winner at Notre Dame and a Hall of Famer with the Packers transferred his Midas touch to his business enterprises

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On the second Saturday in June a 66-year-old man in a sport coat, with flowing gray hair and a prodigious midsection, stood at the curb outside the Surrey Suite Hotel in New York City, awaiting his ride to the Belmont Stakes. From the chaos of Manhattan traffic came a piercing voice: "Hey, Golden Boy!" Paul Hornung is not so golden anymore, and certainly not a boy, yet people still see him as he once was. Is it the nickname? The everlasting imprint of the Lombardi era? Or Notre Dame and the Heisman? Is it all those wild stories they once heard?

Eight days later Hornung sat lakeside at a festival in Tomah, Wis., dispensing autographs with former Green Bay Packers teammate Max McGee, connecting townsfolk to the team's glorious past. McGee signed from a stack of artist's prints depicting his famous two-touchdown performance in the first Super Bowl. ("I sort of remember that day," McGee, who had stayed out all night on the eve of the game, tells people, a well-practiced line that he delivers with convincing fogginess.) Hornung affixed his signature to a classic shot, a photograph from 1960 in which he is captured running onto the field at the start of a game, sun illuminating his blond curls, eye black applied to his cheekbones, the Pack's green-and-yellow helmet dangling from his right hand. "These guys were the greatest—real football players," said Chuck Roeske, 62, a maintenance machinist at the local VA hospital and a lifelong Packers fan, after A getting his autographs. " Paul Hornung, he was the Golden Boy, you know."

Nearly half a century has passed since the afternoon in 1954 when Hornung, an 18-year-old sophomore-to-be from Louisville, played in Notre Dame's spring football game and heralded such great promise that a sportswriter from Hornung's hometown wrote words to the effect that the Golden Dome at last had found its Golden Boy. America was nearing the end of its age of grand nicknames (the Brown Bomber, the Yankee Clipper, the Splendid Splinter), but what a moniker this was, freighted with entitlement.

And what a life the man has lived, worthy of the title. He was a Fighting Irish quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy and went on to run the fabled Green Bay sweep behind Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston. Better yet, Hornung was the paragon of male fantasy, the star with a woman on each arm (every night!) who could party all week and win with style on Sunday.

Hornung walked away from the game at 31, finished by a neck injury that has left his left arm withered and dangling. But he had already jump-started his life beyond football by investing wisely, and now he owns part of a hugely successful business and chunks of real estate all over his native city. Once suspended from the NFL for gambling, he still thrives on action, especially at the racetrack. (He brags that he bet $200 to win on 70-1 Belmont Stakes winner Sarava, a payoff that was worth more than $14,000.) Yet he derives as much pleasure from giving money away as from earning it or winning it. About 18 months ago he sold his Heisman Trophy for $250,000, using the money to endow academic scholarships for Notre Dame students from the Louisville area. If you send him a piece of memorabilia to be autographed, Hornung will sign it and send it back with a note requesting that you write a check to Louisville's Sister Visitor Program, which helps provide food and clothing for people in the poor west end of the city.

"People always said he was a playboy because women loved him," says former Packers teammate Ron Kramer. "That's true, they did. But his friends loved him too. And their wives and kids too. And anybody else who was lucky enough to meet him. He's charming and generous and just a beautiful guy to know." Late in life the debauchery is gone (most of it, anyway), but the joie de vivre remains.

For his first 18 years he was just Paul, a kid from Louisville's west end who lived with his mother, Loretta, in a second-floor apartment over a grocery store. (His father, Paul, was an insurance executive on Long Island who eventually moved back to Louisville.) Hornung grew into a terrific athlete at Flaget High—a 6'2", 200-pound split T quarterback who could run, throw and kick—and was recruited by all the major college powers. Hornung wanted desperately to attend Kentucky and play for its new coach, Paul (Bear) Bryant, but his mother, a devout Catholic, wanted just as desperately for him to play for Notre Dame. "I was so impressed by Coach Bryant, and I wanted to play for him, but I couldn't say no to my mother," says Hornung. "It just wouldn't have been right."

Four years later he won the Heisman, passing for 917 yards and running for another 420 while doubling on special teams, as a kicker and return man. He became the only player from a losing (2-8) team to win the statue in its 67-year history. Green Bay selected Hornung with the first pick in the 1957 NFL draft and moved him to running back, though early on he spent some time at quarterback. For two seasons he was a forgettable player on a poor team. In '59, Vince Lombardi arrived and everything changed. He made Hornung, who by then weighed more than 220 pounds, the focal point of the Green Bay power sweep, utilizing his gliding speed and natural cutting instincts. Hornung won back-to-back NFL MVP awards in 1960, when he scored 176 points (an NFL record that still stands), and '61, when Lombardi's Packers won the first of five league titles in seven years.

"He was a great blocker, he could catch the ball, and he was a better runner close to the goal line than anybody I've ever seen," says Ron Kramer. "But he did a lot of other things for the team too. He kept [fullback] Jimmy Taylor in line when all Jimmy cared about was how many yards he got. He took all the s—-that Vinny dished out in practice, because he just could. Some guys Vinny had to treat differently, like Bart [Starr]. But Paul could take it, and Vinny knew that."

Of course, the Golden Boy was more than a football player. He was a man who lived long nights, indulging a voracious appetite for excess. He was Namath before Na-math. In David Maraniss's 1999 book, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, the late journalist Dick Schaap describes a week he spent with the Packers and Hornung in the autumn of 1961: "At three, he'd come home, mix a pitcher of martinis and drink martinis until six o'clock with [Ron] Kramer and the others. Then they'd go out to dinner, a group of players. Scotch before dinner. Wine with dinner. Brandy after dinner. Then back on scotch. Every day. I lost count by the time it had reached more than sixty just how many drinks he had in that week leading up to the Browns game. Also, he never went to bed before four in the morning, he never went to bed alone, and he never repeated himself."

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