Paul Hornung, Football’s ‘Golden Boy’ Once Suspended for Gambling, Dies at 84

Posted on: November 13, 2020, 07:26h. 

Last updated on: November 14, 2020, 06:05h.

Paul Hornung, the Golden Boy of 1950s and ’60s American football who was forced to sit out a year in his prime because of gambling, died Friday in his hometown of Louisville, Ky., at the age of 84.

paul hornung
Paul Hornung, nicknamed the Golden Boy, played for the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s. But he was also suspended for a year because of his role in a gambling scandal. (Image: Green Bay Packers)

A statement from the Louisville Sports Commission said Hornung died after a long battle with dementia.

Hornung was an All-American for Notre Dame who played four positions and won the Heisman Trophy in 1956 despite the Fighting Irish winning just two games that season. He then became the number one pick of the Green Bay Packers the following year. He was converted to running back in the pros, but he really didn’t flourish with the Packers until Vince Lombardi became the coach in 1959.

That year started a string of three consecutive seasons he led the league in scoring. He also helped guide the team to back-to-back NFL titles in 1961 and 1962.

Out a Year for NFL Betting

However, there would be no chance for a three-peat. In April 1963, then-NFL Commission Pete Rozelle suspended Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive great Alex Karras for the entire season after they were found to have bet on NFL games. Neither player, though, ever bet against his own team.

As part of his reinstatement, Hornung pledged not to visit Las Vegas, or even attend the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, his hometown track, as long as he played.

When he placed the first-ever sports bet in September 2019 at Horseshoe Southern Indiana, not far from the Portland neighborhood where he grew up, he quipped that he didn’t have to worry any more about getting in trouble because of betting on a game.

Hornung returned to the Packers in 1964 and would play three more seasons. The last two, the Packers again won NFL titles, and in 1966 the Packers also won the first Super Bowl, beating the American Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs. Because of an injury, Hornung did not play in that game.

Hornung Loved Horse Racing

Football betting wasn’t Hornung’s only connection to gambling. Like most Louisvillians, he enjoyed horse racing. According to a Los Angeles Times feature from 1986, Hornung hitchhiked his way to Churchill Downs as a 14-year-old for his first visit. As a high school student – and even then he was a well-known local athlete – he worked as an usher. Then, while he attended Notre Dame, he worked construction jobs at the track.

The few times I was fortunate enough to do interviews with Paul Hornung, it never failed that we would get sidetracked and start talking about horse racing. He loved the ponies,” Louisville sports writer Jody Demling recalled on Twitter.

Officials from Churchill Downs and Keeneland in Lexington tweeted their remembrances of the football great, who often visited both tracks.

Hornung became a football commentator and a successful businessman after his playing days, and that included owning horses. One of the horses that he owned a stake in was Titletown Five, a name paying homage to Green Bay’s nickname. That horse, trained by legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas, ran in the 2013 Preakness Stakes.

According to, the last horse Hornung owned a stake in raced last in August 2019. The gelding was named Flaget Braves, the name of his high school football team.

Hornung will be buried in a private ceremony. A public celebration will take place at a date to be determined, the sports commission said.