Issue April 24, 2006

Golden Boy bronzed: New downtown statue memorializes Paul Hornung

As a player and playboy at Notre Dame and with the Green Bay Packers of the NFL, Paul Hornung sometimes seemed larger than life. Now he really is. At least, the new bronze statue honoring him will be. The official unveiling will be at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 2, outside Slugger Field at the corner of Witherspoon and Preston.

The statue was made by noted local sculptor Raymond Graf, whose credits include the downtown statues of Pee Wee Reese, J. Graham Brown and Al Schneider. One of Hornung’s friends, attorney Robert Stallings, led a fund-raising drive that generated more than $200,000 to pay for the statue.
“All of his friends wanted to do this in honor of Paul’s football career and the credit he has brought to Louisville,” said Stallings.

Known as the “Golden Boy” because of his movie-star looks and blond hair, Hornung arguably is the best all-around player in football history. Both in college and in the pros, he ran, passed, caught passes, blocked, punted and place-kicked. He also played defensive back in college, where he was among Notre Dame’s leaders in interceptions.

Because he could score in so many different ways, Hornung set the NFL record for points in a season with 176 in 1960. The record still stands, even though the NFL played only 12 regular-season games in Hornung’s day compared with today’s 16. His coach at Green Bay, Vince Lombardi, said Hornung was the best clutch player he ever coached.

With Hornung at left halfback, the Packers won NFL championships in 1960, 1961, 1962, 1965 and 1966. In his last season with Green Bay, the Packers defeated Kansas City in Super Bowl I, but Hornung didn’t play because of an injury.

A 1952 graduate of Flaget High, where he played under Paulie Miller, Hornung went to Notre Dame and won the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1956. He’s the only Kentuckian to win college football’s most prestigious award, the only player to win it while playing on a losing team (the Irish were 2-8 in Hornung’s senior season) and the only player to win the Heisman at one position (quarterback) and be named the NFL’s MVP at another (halfback).

The plaque on the statue will not mention the controversial aspects of Hornung’s career. In 1963, for example, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended him when he admitted that he had bet on the Packers to win. In 2003, he got into hot water for telling an interviewer that Notre Dame should consider lowering its entrance requirements so it could recruit the nation’s top black prospects.

Graf modeled the statue from a photo on a trading card that depicts Hornung early in his career at Green Bay. “He was posing for the card,” said Graf, “which is why he isn’t wearing his helmet. But I like that because you can see his face.”

After his retirement from the NFL, Hornung was one of the first ex-players to become a national TV and radio commentator. When Miller Lite beer launched a series of TV commercials in the 1970s featuring famous athletes, the most popular was Hornung’s “Practice, practice, practice” spot.

Hornung always has been loyal to Louisville. He has maintained his residence here, and he’s still involved with real estate and some of the other businesses he owned with his close friend, the late Frank Metts.
For years, he did his national cable TV show, “Paul Hornung’s Sports Showcase,” from here. In 2003, Simon & Schuster published his autobiography, “Golden Boy,” and Triumph Books of Chicago is coming out with another Hornung book about Lombardi later this summer.

Hornung, 70, lives in eastern Jefferson County with his wife, Angela, an outstanding amateur golfer, and his French bulldog, Louie.

Contact the writer at billyr@leoweekly.com