NFL's Paul Hornung: Gambler, Womanizer, Hall of Famer

Green Bay Packers Paul Hornung and Bart Starr, circa early 1960s (image via Sports Illustrated)

Sixties sports icon Paul Hornung passed away on November 13. He suffered from dementia and was 84.

It's likely Hornung's death is more specifically related to CTE, the brain injury caused by multiple concussiuons. CTE can only be revealed after a person dies and tests are done.

It's also being suggested that Hornung's partying lifestyle when he was star player with the Green Bay Packers from 1957-1966 might be responsible for his condition. He was suspended for the entire 1963 season for gambling.

In his 2004 autobiography, Golden Boy: Girls, Games and Gambling (at Green Bay and Notre Dame, Too), Hornung wrote: 

“All I did, really, was seek pleasure wherever I could find it. Everything was linked together – drinking, running, partying, traveling, playing. And, of course, football made it all possible.

"I’m sure during my playing years I wasn’t seen as a good role model for the youth of the country. But the way times have changed, I would look like an altar boy if I played today. I have never beat a woman, carried a gun or a knife, shot anyone, or been arrested for disturbing the peace. I never even experimented with drugs during the season."

That last statement is interesting. So then Hornung used drugs during the off-season? Was he referring to marijuana? He doesn't say.

In Golden Boy's description, it explains about the Pro Football Hall of Famer:

"Hornung always loved the good life. He had girlfriends all across the country, and he was a regular at Toots Shor's and at clubs in Chicago and Los Angeles. A frustrated [Packers coach Vince] Lombardi once asked him whether he wanted to be a player or a playboy, and his teammates joked about his Hollywood ambitions. On game days Hornung was always ready to play, but the night after a game  and sometimes even the night before  was a different story."

In his 2001 book, Flashing Before My Eyes: 50 Year of Headlines, Deadlines & Punchlines, sports journalist Dick Schaap wrote about Hornung: 

"Paul was a bachelor, a drinker and a gambler, and worked at all three with the same dedication he brought to the football field. I spent a week with him in Green Bay and lost count of both his drinks and his conquests. I didn't really lose count, but the numbers, even a third of a century later, still boggle the mind."

Unlike MLB's Pete Rose, who was banned for life from the league and has never been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame because of his gambling controversy, Hornung was handled with kid gloves and reinstatated after his year-long ban. However, the Pro Football Hall of Fame did wait until 1986 to induct Horning, two decades after his career ended.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1935, Hornung was quite the all-around player. He starred as quarterback at Notre Dame (where he won the Heisman Trophy), but was converted to a halfback by the Packers. He not only could run, catch and pass, Hornung also kicked field goals and extra points and punted. He scored a then league record 176 points in 1960 and was named the league's MVP with 146 points in 1961, the first of four Packer teams he played on that won the NFL championship.


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.