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Paul Hornung - Ladies Man And Gambler

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By the spring of 1962, Paul Hornung was on the top of the world. He had been named the NFL's MVP for 1961. Their rival, the American Football League (AFL), was trying to lure him away from the Packers with $250,000 contract offers. He was being wooed by both parties to run for public office in Wisconsin. He had a roster of product endorsements he did regularly. His face was one of the most recognizable in the country. If that wasn't enough to make him the envy of most adult American males, Hornung also had a reputation as the country's most successful ladies' man. The stories began to circulate while he was still in college when he returned to his dorm room late one evening and found a girl there waiting for him. On another occasion, not long after he joined the Packers, a woman approached him as he sat on the bench—during a game! She refused to leave until he had his picture taken with her. As she left the field, he told her to meet him outside the locker room after the game. Hornung played down the rumors, saying that if he had done half of what he was said to have done with women he would be in a bottle at the Smithsonian Institution. At the same time, he admitted frequently, "I like girls."

Hornung's rollicking, party-boy lifestyle occasionally got him into hot water with Green Bay's coach Vince Lombardi. Lombardi put few restrictions on his players but he was a stickler for the rules he had. He fined Hornung and Max McGee, both hard drinkers who liked to do the town together, $250 each for coming in five minutes after curfew. On another occasion Hornung was fined $500 when Lombardi caught him standing with his date at a hotel bar in Chicago, in violation of team rules. Lombardi later reduced the fine to $250 when he learned that Hornung had only been drinking ginger ale.

The greatest test of Hornung's relationship with the coach occurred in 1963 when Hornung was suspended by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle. Hornung had befriended a pinball machine operator, Barney Shapiro, who took to calling Hornung for advice before placing bets on pro football games. Eventually Hornung started making bets himself, between $100 and $500 a game, on both college and pro football. Rozelle himself admitted that Hornung had never bet against the Packers. Rozelle opened an investigation into gambling in the NFL in 1962. When Rozelle's spotlight hit Hornung, he quickly admitted his guilt. Despite Hornung's immediate and evidently sincere repentance, in April 1963, Hornung and Detroit Lion Alex Karras were put on indefinite suspension for their gambling activities.

Lombardi was naturally dismayed to lose his star back. Making matters worse, Lombardi, aware of Rozelle's investigation, had asked Hornung about gambling before Hornung was confronted by the commissioner. Hornung had denied any complicity. More than the suspension, Lombardi was more disappointed that Hornung had lied to him. Rumors circulated regularly that if Hornung were allowed to return to the Pack, Lombardi would trade him. In the spring of 1964, however, when Rozelle lifted the suspensions, Lombardi welcomed the Golden Boy back, insisting only that he begin training two months before the rest of the team to get back into playing shape.

Lombardi appreciated Hornung too much as a player and leader to let him go so easily. In The Great Running Backs, George Sullivan quotes Lombardi's thoughts on Hornung: "You have to know what Hornung means to this team. I have heard and read that he is not a great runner or a great passer or a great field-goal kicker, but he led the league in scoring for three seasons. In the middle of the field he may be only slightly better than an average ballplayer, but inside the twenty-yard line he is one of the greatest I have ever seen. He smells that goal line." Ultimately Hornung's performance and dedication was what mattered most to Lombardi. Hornung also did things off the field that Lombardi valued, for example, befriending new players whom he often took along to his speaking engagements and split his fee with afterwards. In addition, Lombardi just liked Paul Hornung and was said to be closer to him than to any other Packer player.

Awards and Accomplishments

1953 Kentucky Most Valuable High School Football Player
1955-56 College football All-American
1956 Heisman Trophy
1959 Associated Press All-Pro Running Back; United Press International All-Pro Running Back
1960 Associated Press All-Pro Running Back; United Press All-Pro Running Back; Newspaper Enterprise Association All-Pro Running Back; Sporting News All-Pro Running Back; New York Daily News All-Pro Running Back
1961 NFL Most Valuable Player; Sporting News NFL Most Valuable Player; United Press NFL Most Valuable Player; Associated Press All-Pro Running Back; United Press All-Pro Running Back; Newpaper Enterprise Association All-Pro Running Back; Sporting News All-Pro Running Back; New York Daily News All-Pro Running Back
1975 Elected to Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame
1985 Elected to NFF College Football Hall of Fame
1986 Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Where Is He Now?

Paul Hornung lives with his wife in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to his real estate interests, Hornung hosts the Paul Hornung Sports Showcase, an hour-long cable show shown nationwide. Hornung supports a number of charities and has pledged more than $300,000 to his alma mater, Notre Dame.

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about 5 years ago

In 1955 or 56 when I was about 12, my uncle Ed Hornung died. He was my grandfather, Lee Hornung's brother. We went to the funeral home and to my amazement Paul Hornung walked in. I almost dropped dead myself. He was my hero. Did this really happen or did I dream it. I've been telling everyone for years that he is my cousin. I've seen him at the track a few times, but never had the nerve to talk to him.

eddie lee miller

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