Vince Lombardi sat in the chair, tie stiffly knotted at his neck, a look of perplexed dismay creasing his face as he scanned the file that Pete Rozelle had handed him. After reviewing the two-page statement and its tersely phrased admissions--"I also bet on the regular-season games of the Packers and other teams in 1959, 1960 & 1961"-- Lombardi sighed deeply, closed the file and placed it back on Rozelle's desk.
"Well, you have no choice," the Green Bay coach said. "You have to suspend him."
"I think I do," said Rozelle, taking another drag on a cigarette, casting a sympathetic glance across his desk.
"Well, then," said Lombardi, "let's go get a drink."
It was early April 1963, just months after Lombardi's Packers had won their second straight NFL title. That night, Lombardi and Rozelle hit the town. Lombardi was morose over evidence of betrayal by his favorite player and the impact it might have on the dynasty he was building; Rozelle was steeling himself for the firestorm to come when he would announce the suspension of two of the league's best-known players--1961 MVP and Packers Golden Boy Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions All-Pro defensive tackle Alex Karras.
The Hornung-Karras case was merely the centerpiece of Rozelle's remarkable 1963. He would enjoy greater power and acclaim in later years, but the events that occurred over the 14month period--from December 1962 through January 1964--would largely define Rozelle's leadership and set in motion pro football's inexorable ascendance. By the end of that period, he'd met the greatest challenges the job had to offer, been hardened by the criticism that accompanied it, and emerged as the unmistakable leader of pro football.
The chatter about players associating with gamblers had been building throughout the 1962 season, with numerous reports from the ex- FBI agents on retainer in cities throughout the league. There were no point-shaving charges, just vague suggestions of associations between gamblers and stars. Rozelle knew, as had his predecessor, Bert Bell, that the suspicion could be as damaging as the fact.
By Jan. 9, 1963, Rozelle had publicly confirmed that the league was beginning an investigation of unnamed players and, on that same day, met Hornung at The Plaza hotel in New York to ask about his relations with suspected gamblers and whether he had gambled on football. Hornung denied that he had and agreed to submit to a lie-detector test. The next afternoon, Hornung reported to the office of John P. Daly, one of the league's security men, where the test was conducted. In a subsequent report to Rozelle, polygraph consultant Thomas J. McShane said that, after Hornung denied having bet on any NFL games or passing any information to bettors, McShane had "promptly advised Mr. Hornung that his chart clearly indicated that he was purposely withholding pertinent information, that he had lied on several critical questions, including those about his own betting on games and his furnishing of information to others for betting purposes.... It was strongly suggested to him that it was in his best interests and the interests of professional sports that he cooperate completely."
With that, Hornung buckled, and confessed that he had placed a series of bets, from 1959 through the 1962 preseason, with his friend Barney Shapiro who had once owned a small stake in a Las Vegas hotel and casino. Hornung had also placed bets with another friend and had shared information with both men on the state of the Packers.
Though Shapiro was not a bookmaker, and although his bets were placed legally in Las Vegas, Hornung was still in blatant violation of Paragraph 11 of the standard player's contract, which declared that the commissioner possessed broad powers "to fine, cancel the contract or suspend indefinitely any player ... who bets on a game, or who is guilty of any conduct detrimental to the welfare of the National Football League or professional football."