Paul Hornung, Midcentury Football’s ‘Golden Boy’, Is Dead at 84


Paul Hornung, one of the most versatile and glamorous football stars of the modern game, the “Golden Boy” quarterback from Notre Dame who won championships as a running back with Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers but whose image was tarnished by gambling and carousing, died on Friday in Louisville, Ky. He was 84.

Hornung’s family confirmed his death to the Louisville Sports Commission and to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He lived in Louisville.

Hornung filed a lawsuit in July 2016 seeking damages against Riddell, the longtime supplier of helmets to the N.F.L., saying he was suffering from “dementia and other neurodegenerative disease(s) caused by repetitive head trauma” as a result of Riddell’s failure to inform players that it knew its helmets could not prevent concussions.

The suit said he had incurred numerous concussions while wearing Riddell helmets as a Packer. His case was later consolidated with many others filed by former N.F.L. players against Riddell and was in federal court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Hornung, who won the 1956 Heisman Trophy with Notre Dame, could run, throw passes and catch them, block, place-kick and punt, and he returned kicks and played defense too. In nine professional seasons he helped propel the Packers to four National Football League championships and led the N.F.L. in scoring from 1959 to 1961.

Hornung was the fourth Hall of Fame Packer from the Lombardi era to die this year. The others were safety Willie Wood (in February), defensive end Willie Davis (in April) and cornerback Herb Adderley (in October).

Hornung scored a record 176 points in the 12-game 1960 season on 15 touchdowns, 41 extra points and 15 field goals. He also passed for two touchdowns that year.

Hornung was the league’s most valuable player in 1961, when he scored a championship-game record 19 points (on a rushing touchdown, four extra points and three field goals) in the Packers’ 37-0 victory over the Giants.

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All the while he pursued a robust night life of women and drink that seemed to have little effect on his on-field performance. His movie-star looks certainly had something to do with the attention: He was blond and handsome, 6 feet 2 inches and 215 pounds. He wore No. 5 in honor of his boyhood idol, Joe DiMaggio.

But Hornung’s career was marred when the N.F.L. commissioner, Pete Rozelle, suspended him indefinitely in the spring of 1963 for gambling on pro football, including Packer games, over several seasons. Hornung said he had bet on Green Bay only to win, and the league found no evidence to the contrary, but he remained suspended for the entire season. The ban was an outgrowth of an N.F.L. drive against gambling by players that also brought a one-year suspension for Alex Karras, the Detroit Lions’ star defensive tackle.

The Packers also won the N.F.L. championship in 1962 but did not repeat in 1963.

Hornung had to wait until 1986, his 15th time on the ballot, to be selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, evidently because of his suspension.

“I don’t see this as Paul Hornung being vindicated,” he told The Associated Press when he was finally elected to the hall, in Canton, Ohio. “I never considered myself a villain, but obviously some people did.”

When Hornung was inducted, his Packer Hall of Fame teammates marveled at his accomplishments.

“I’ve never seen a guy more effective inside the 20-yard line,” the former Green Bay offensive tackle Forrest Gregg told The A.P. “You could hand off to him or throw a pass to him and somehow he would get the ball in the end zone.” Bart Starr, the Packer quarterback, called him “one of the best clutch players ever.”

Paul Vernon Hornung was born in Louisville on Dec. 23, 1935, and raised there by his divorced mother, Loretta Hornung. He was recruited out of high school by Bear Bryant, then the head coach at the University of Kentucky, but chose Notre Dame to please his mother, who was a devout Roman Catholic.

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In his junior year at Notre Dame, Hornung was primarily a running back and a safety. As a senior, switching to quarterback, he ran or passed for 1,337 yards and continued to excel in the defensive secondary. He became the first player to win the Heisman Trophy with a losing team: Notre Dame had a 2-8 record in 1956.

Hornung was chosen by the Packers as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1957 N.F.L. draft.

The Packers, having floundered for many years, continued to struggle in Hornung’s first two pro seasons, but everything began to change in 1959, when


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