I had the pleasure of interviewing football legend Paul Horning a little more than a decade ago.
In fact, he was our 23rd MoxieTalk guest on September 27th, 200; see below
As I often ask my guests, I asked him what he thought his epitaph might be.
With little hesitation, he said, “Paul Hornung went through life on a scholarship.”
It seems fitting! Hornung walked through every door that opened for him and came out with gratitude on the other side. Then he reached back through the door and pulled more people through. The former professional football player became a legendary player for the Green Bay Packers, and after his career was over, he returned home to build up his hometown and extend the same opportunities to succeed that he enjoyed to a whole new generation of players.
He also said, “Louisville has been awful good to me. … I’d like to be looked at as a generous person.” I’m pretty sure he got his wish!
It takes moxie to be a hometown hero, and Paul Hornung had it.
Moxie knows how to win.
When I asked Hornung to sum up leadership in one word, he didn’t hesitate.
“Leadership is winning,” he said. Those that win on the field are often winners off the field, too. They know how to spot good opportunities and jump in, they know how to make good decisions, and they tune into the right people.
He tuned into his mother’s voice early on. From the start, it was just Hornung, and his mother, a “hard-working woman from the West End.” She split with his father right around the time Hornung was born and raised him solo. From the beginning, it was just the two of them, and their devotion to each other never waned. Hornung returned home to Louisville frequently throughout his career and often spent time in the offseason living with his mother in her apartment.
Hornung listened to his mother when it came time to pick a college. His heart was at the University of Kentucky, but his devoutly Catholic mother wanted him to go to Notre Dame. He obeyed his mom and four years later found himself the proud recipient of a Heisman Trophy, with a career in professional football stretching out before him. He might not have enjoyed the same opportunities if he’d chosen to go anywhere else but Notre Dame!
Hornung continued to tune in to the right voices after his playing career ended. He made wise investments that paid off well. He was mentored by Louisville developer Frank Metts and joined Metts and others in purchasing the site of the old Seagram’s distillery and launching Golden Foods.
Horning continued winning long after he scored his final touchdown. That takes moxie.
Moxie knows how to live.
Hornung was a hard partier. He had a reputation for carousing with women off the field, gambling, drinking. And he especially loved gambling.
His love of gambling caused one of the few scandals of his career. He was suspended for the 1963 season due to gambling on football games.
He was immediately remorseful and agreed not to bet on the game again. He was reinstated in 1964 and often said the missed season was the one regret of his life on and off the field.
But that was the only time his antics off the field jeopardized his performance on the field. He had the power to be fully present on the field, no matter where he’d been present the night before. He was noted for his versatility. He was able to pivot from halfback to quarterback to placekicker and did whatever needed to be done to help his team win.
Writer David Marannis said Hornung was a “money player who would find a way to score if they got near the goal line, a rare gifted runner who was not too proud to block, a charismatic leader who just wanted to be one of the boys yet lifted the heart of teammates just by being among them.”
Moxie knows how to give.
Paul Hornung loved Louisville, and Louisville loved him right back. He gave publicly and privately to Louisville causes. He sold off his Heisman trophy to benefit students from Louisville attending Notre Dame. He also quietly supported a religious order in the West End dedicated to caring for the sick and the poor. He called in his famous football friends for charity golf tournaments but never called attention to the events in the media.
Hornung was adored not just for his deep pockets but for his deeply generous spirit. He was incredibly well-liked by his peers. It would have been easy to be eaten alive with envy over this golden-haired Adonis’ charmed life, but Horning made it tough to hate him. He was unfailingly loyal and generous with his friends.
It isn’t surprising that in 2006, months prior to our MoxieTalk sit-down, Hornung would be honored with a larger-than-life statue in his hometown. A bronze statue stands in his honor just outside the Louisville Slugger Field, not far from a similar statue of his friend Pee Wee Reese.
I’m glad and humbled for the opportunity I had to sit down with Hornung.
What’s your favorite memory of Louisville’s Golden Boy?
Paul Hornung’s Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Hornung
Green Bay Packers’ Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Bay_Packers
Heisman Trophy Wikipedia Page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heisman_Trophy