LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Paul Hornung, one of the all-time great college and pro football players from the 1950s and 60s, died Friday in his hometown of Louisville at age 84.
Hornung died following a long battle with dementia, and is survived by his wife of 41 years, Angela Hornung.
Hornung rose from humble beginnings in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood, where he was a three-sport star at Flaget High School. He then went on to attend Notre Dame at the suggestion of his mother and Sherrill Sipes, his best friend from high school who became his teammate with the Irish. To this day, Hornung and Sipes are the only two players from the same high school to start in the Notre Dame backfield at the same time.
Then a quarterback, Hornung won the Heisman Trophy in 1956, the same year he graduated from Notre Dame with a business degree. He continues to be recognized as one of the top players in the school’s rich football history.
“The Golden Boy” was the first pick in the 1957 NFL draft, and played mostly halfback for the Green Bay Packers under legendary coach Vince Lombardi, who once called him “the most versatile man ever to play the game.” The Packers would win NFL championships in 1961, 1962 and 1965, as well as Super Bowl I in 1967.
Hornung’s versatility was so great -- he was also a placekicker -- that the Paul Hornung Award was introduced in 2010 and is awarded to college football’s most versatile player. Last year, Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. won it, and the year before, Purdue freshman Rondale Moore, a Louisville native who starred at Trinity High School, won it.
Hornung, a member of the college and pro football halls of fame, joined a 2016 lawsuit against helmet maker Riddell, claiming the company should have done more to prevent head injuries.
“You get your bell rung a couple of times, get knocked out, don’t know where in the hell you are," Hornung told WAVE 3 News at the time. "It’s dangerous.”
Radio host Terry Meiners was first introduced to him on his TV screen.
“When I was a kid, my dad would watch NFL games,” Meiners said. “And he pointed at the TV one day and he said that guy is from Louisville and I was like what? So I became a Packers fan then because it was the first time I had heard a local star and it turned out he was huge!”
Meiners said the first word that comes to mind to describe Hornung is hilarious.
“He could always make people laugh and comfortable, and it didn’t matter if he was talking to some world famous athlete or the nuns in the west end who work at the Catholic Charities,” he explained.
Meiners said Hornung continued to donate to Catholic Charities over the year, giving back to his old neighborhood.
“He always sent money to the nuns in the west end had money so they could distribute food and clothing to the poor people because that’s the neighborhood where he group up,” Meiners said.
Hornung gave back to his community and to the next generation of football stars, through the Paul Hornung Award.
“Paul loved all the versatile superstars in the game because he saw a little bit of himself in that’s why they started the Paul Hornung Award,” Meiners said.
Former WAVE 3 News Sports Anchor Bob Domine remembers watching Hornung play for the Green Bay Packers when he was younger, too.
“What a star he was; he was beating my Detroit Lions so I didn’t like it,” Domine laughed.
He described Hornung as “bigger than life.”
“One, he was a big man and he had this tremendous college and professional career and two he was from Louisville. Like Muhammad Ali, Lenny Lyles, like so many other huge stars from our city, Paul was right there with them and he always carried himself with a certain stature, but he was always kind and gentle and caring,” Domine said.
Domine and his fiance Melanie drove to Notre Dame to watch UofL take on the fighting Irish in 2014, and it’s no surprise who they saw.
“There was Paul Hornung,” Domine said. “Bigger than life-- big, big in Notre Dame history and took the time to come over and say, ‘Hey Bob, how you doing?’ Put his arm around my shoulder and we had a nice chat. He was never too big or too in the spotlight to take those he knows and cares for in mind.”
Because of COVID restrictions, there will be a private funeral mass at St. Louis Bertrand Church in Louisville followed by a private burial in Cave Hill Cemetery. A public celebration of his life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Norton Sports Health Athletics and Learning Complex via the Louisville Urban League, 1535 West Broadway, Louisville, Ky., 40203; or the Sister Visitor Center via Catholic Charities of Louisville, 2911 South Fourth Street, Louisville, Ky., 40208.
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