By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
If you ask any NFL fan in Stevens Point to name the greatest Packer ever, the answers will probably be Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr, Brett Favre, or Aaron Rodgers. Ray Nitschke is another good choice, and also high on the list would be Paul Hornung.
What many people don’t know is that Paul Hornung isn’t a stranger to Stevens Point.
Vince Lombardi once said that the greatest running back he ever saw inside the 20-yard line was Paul Hornung. Lombardi would certainly be one to know.
Hornung played quarterback in college at Notre Dame. His nickname was the “Golden Boy”. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1956, and was the only player to win that award while playing for a losing team. The Fighting Irish went 2-8 that year.
Paul was the first player to win the Heisman, be selected as the first overall selection in the NFL draft, win the NFL’s MVP Award, and be inducted into the pro football and college football Halls of Fame.
Hornung was a superstar for the Green Bay Packers. In the 1960 NFL season, which only went twelve games, Paul set an all-time record by scoring 176 points as a running back and placekicker. In 1961, Hornung established an NFL record for a championship game by scoring 19 points. The record stood for 56 years. In a single game in 1965, Hornung scored five touchdowns in a win over the Baltimore Colts.
Hornung was on the Packers when they won the first Super Bowl. Unfortunately, he had to sit out with a pinched nerve. Late in the game, Lombardi asked him if he wanted to go in, but Hornung declined the offer.
The star running back from the Packer Glory Years visited Stevens Point in 1989 on Mother’s Day Weekend. He signed autographs at Dave Koch Sports in the mall on both Saturday and Sunday.
Dave Koch recalled: “When I negotiated payment with him, Paul’s main concern was getting paid enough to have his pilot fly him in. I recruited Craig ‘Archie’ Hansen to take him places over the weekend.”
Hansen, an excellent photographer and former co-owner of Archie’s Cocktail Lounge with wife Sue, remembers that time well.
Archie said, “Geez, it really was a thrill. Hornung flew in on a private jet Saturday morning and landed at the Stevens Point airport. I’m not sure where his pilot went, but Paul stayed at the Best Western.”
“I was his personal chaperone for those two days,” he added. “Later on Saturday, I drove him to the mall in Point. A huge crowd was waiting for him at Dave Koch Sports’ card show. Most of the fans remembered Hornung from the Packer glory years. He signed lots of autographs and the people were delighted to get the chance to talk to him.”
So what happened after the autograph session on Saturday?
Archie recalled: “After the signing, Paul called his buddy Bill Martini in Appleton. Bill owned a bar with Max McGee and Hornung, and Paul wanted to go over there, but he couldn’t get in touch with him. Then we decided to drive to the Sky Club in Plover for dinner. Paul was great at the Sky Club. Some fans would drop by our table to ask him questions, and he always gave long thoughtful answers.”
Hornung’s visit to Point came right around the time baseball’s Pete Rose got busted for gambling. NOTE: In 1963, Hornung and Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions were suspended for one year for betting small amounts on their teams. They both got back in the next year.
Archie said, “One time when I was driving him around, I asked Paul what he thought about the Pete Rose situation.
“Arch, what I did, and what HE did, I should be made a Saint,” Hornung said.
Talk about irony. Following Super Bowl I, Hornung, even with his pinched nerve, was selected in the expansion draft by the new New Orleans Saints. He hung it up instead, although his Packer running mate Jim Taylor did sign with the Saints.
How important was Paul Hornung to the Packers? Well, he was on active duty during the 1961 season. Lombardi was a friend of President Kennedy, and it was arranged for Hornung to get weekend passes to play for Green Bay on Sundays. He also got a pass to play against the New York Giants in the NFL Championship Game.
After buying Archie breakfast at 10-51 on Sunday morning, Hansen drove him back to Dave Koch Sports, but the second day of signing was a little different. Also signing that day was Don “Majik” Majkowski, the Packers’ quarterback. The “Majik Man” drew most of the fans’ attention. This wasn’t surprising since Majkowski was the current Green Bay starting quarterback, and most of the younger fans never heard of Hornung. But Paul noticed.
He later told Archie, “Next time I’m upping my fee.”
Dave Koch noted: “We had huge crowds all during that ‘89 season. Most of the players doing the signings were active Packers still on the team. Brent Fullwood. Keith Woodside. Tim Harris. Jeff Query. Anthony Dilweg. All of them were Packers until 1991 or 1992. I’ll tell you what, though. Paul Hornung signed a lot of extra photos for us that weekend.”
After the Sunday outing, Archie and Paul went back to Archie’s bar (My buddy Randy Wievel and I had interviewed Hornung at Koch’s, and we hooked up with him again at the bar. The Hall of Famer was tired but delightful). He held court for a few hours.
Paul Hornung (jersey number 5) had also been to Stevens Point prior to the 1989 Dave Koch Card Show.
Local attorney Jared Redfield recalled: “My dad Pete owned Pete’s Silver Coach. Hornung was a rookie when the Packers trained in Point, and he stopped in for a cool one from time to time. My dad thought Hornung was great!”
Hornung will always be remembered for some quotes he said in jest. One of his favorites was: “Never get married in the morning. You never know who you might meet that night.”
Another was, “I got married in the morning because if it didn’t work out, I didn’t want to blow the whole day.”
In addition to his tremendous football career, Hornung was also in some movies like “Semi-Tough”, “Run To Daylight”, and “The Devil’s Brigade”. He was born in 1935 and is now 82.
And just between you and me, if I’m at a card show and Anthony Dilweg is signing at one table and Paul Hornung is at the next table over, there’s a good chance I’ll head over to Hornung’s table first.