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The Golden Boy

February 24, 1986|BOB OATES | Times Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Paul Hornung Played Hard at Notre Dame and Green Bay and He Lived Even Harder (Most of Those Stories Are True) But He Always Went Home to Louisville and That's Where You Can Find Him Today, Prosperous and Still Having Fun

This is Paul Hornung's town. The one-time Golden Boy of Green Bay and Notre Dame was born here half a century ago. And though he has traveled widely for the last 25 years, Hornung always comes back to Louisville.

"Who wouldn't?" he asked the other day. "Like the man said, I've never met a Kentuckian that wasn't on his way home."

In the years when Hornung was an All-American quarterback at Notre Dame, he returned to Louisville every month or so to spend a day or two with his mother at her house, where he lived until he was 30.

"I always hitch-hiked," he recalled. "I must have made 30 or 40 round trips to South Bend in those days, and it was my thumb that did it every time. Never went any other way."

Later, when Hornung was an All-NFL running back with the Green Bay Packers, he cruised back to his old Kentucky home each winter in a new convertible.

"Been driving new Cadillacs for 28 years," he said.

This month he came home from Honolulu in a jet.

"Only way to go that far," he said.

Hornung, now a Louisville businessman with holdings mostly in real estate, ventured to Honolulu last month at the request of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which introduced him there as a new member.

It was a long time coming. Nine other Packers preceded him into the Canton, Ohio, hall despite Hornung's 1960s status as the champions' big gun.

Or as an old friend, Packer guard Jerry Kramer, put it: "He was always the star of our team, even after he stopped being the best player."

Just to keep him humble, though, his teammates called him Goat Shoulders.

At the height of his career, Hornung lost a year when he was suspended for betting on NFL games. He bet on his own team. The episode bothered some members of the Hall of Fame selection committee, which delayed his admission until this winter.

But Hornung's bitterness, if any, isn't evident.

"The thing I'm proudest of is that I made the College Hall of Fame as a quarterback and the Pro Hall of Fame as a running back," he said.

The Golden Boy at 50 isn't quite as golden as he used to be. These days he is a gray-toned blond who comes to work in old jeans or old cords and pullover sweaters. The sweaters fit snugly.

He admits to 255 pounds, but it's more. The familiar 215-pound athlete disappeared when he quit smoking several years ago but kept on eating.

"Paul is always on time for dinner," said Angela, his second wife.

He also travels extensively as a football announcer for WTBS, visiting different cities each fall weekend.

The distinctive Hornung trait is his gait, which is fast-forward. A bundle of nervous energy, he always seems to be in motion. He says he can get in and out of any restaurant in America in 28 minutes.

Though his reach reportedly isn't that fast when the check arrives, Hornung is essentially a good-hearted, open, unreserved and trusting person. Particularly loyal to old friends, he has asked one of them, Max McGee, to make his Hall of Fame presentation this summer.

McGee, who doubled as a wide receiver and fun-loving curfew-buster on the Hornung teams at Green Bay, has also settled down, married, and gotten rich in Minneapolis, where he ran a Mexican restaurant into a franchise operation and a bundle.

McGee said, a bit sadly, "You can't party all your life."

Hornung remembers when they tried.

"Max was my roommate on the Packers, and one year at training camp, he was out every night," Hornung said. "I know, because once or twice I had to get him up and make him come along."

No Packer was more persuasive than Hornung.

"He was our leader," McGee said. "He led us on the field, and when the game was over, he always led us to the nearest bar."

Those were the days.

LEVY BROS.

The great Kentucky flood of 1937, the year the Ohio River overflowed in Louisville, changed Paul Hornung's life.

He was 2 years old when, terrified, he clutched his mother's hand on the roof of their submerged house while the river rose.

Just in time, a man in a small boat came round the corner, rowed up, and rescued them.

"That was the start of a very beautiful friendship," Hornung said.

The man was Henry Hofmann, a real estate investor-developer and family benefactor known to Hornung as Uncle Henry.

Hornung's father, who had been an insurance company executive, left the family early in his son's life, a victim of alcohol. Hofmann replaced him as adviser, friend and football fan.

As long ago as the Notre Dame years, Hofmann, who died in 1983, was investing Hornung's savings in Louisville real estate.

A few years after the flood, Hofmann rescued another Louisville youngster, Frank Metts. He encouraged Metts to resign as the driver of a milk truck, which appeared to his destiny, and taught him the real estate business.

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