Monday, December 03, 2012

Every sports star, actor, politician and wanna-be celebrity should study, as much as they can, and try to be as much as possible like, Paul Hornung.

Imagine Paul Newman and Robert Redford combined into the greatest athlete you ever saw. Now make that amazing athlete funny, charming, a leader and an all-around stud on and off the field.

How charming was Hornung? He took one of the hardest cases in history, Vince Lombardi, and turned him into putty. Lombardi himself was at a loss to explain the hold Hornung had on people. It was magical. It was chemistry. He made a room light up. 

As an athlete, Hornung was the best thrower, kicker, runner in the country. Not the best who could do all three, the best at all three. Now multiply that in high school by three, baseball, basketball and football.  

Combine the handsomest prince with the bravest warrior and the most popular entertainer in the Kingdom and you start to get closer. 

When you go to Louisville, Kentucky, granted a sports-crazy town and Hornung's hometown, the Golden Boy is talked about like he is still playing the NFL almost five decades later. There is nobody in the city who has a cross word to say about the man. Everybody has a story.

The closest I ever heard to Hornung was Mickey Mantle and Frank Gifford in New York. Babe Ruth was an icon, but the stories of his filth, crudeness, gluttony and selfishness tarnish his image.

Mickey Mantle and Frank Gifford were the essential "Guys want to be him, women want to sleep with him" sports gods. But  Mantle had some dark and angry issues. And Gifford was an insufferable egomaniac despised by many on his team. 

Probably the closest to Hornung was Joe Namath. 

Hornung's to-do list on an average practice day in Green Bay, Wisconsin is the stuff of legends and now would be the stuff of celebrity rehab. 

Start the day in the sauna to sweat out the night before. Go hard at practice. Invite a few boys back to his bachelor pad for cigars, cigarettes, poker and martinis. After poker, steak dinner. (Usually paid for by Hornung with his vast winnings from poker) After steak dinner, drinks at the local watering hole. About one in the morning he would invite a beautiful female guest (s) back to his place for some, well, special time. 

Next day? Repeat. 

Yes, later on, Hornung said a regrettable thing on radio about Notre Dame needing to lower academic standards to get more black athletes, but almost everyone agrees his words were taken out of context. His close relationship with black players at Green Bay were famous and way ahead of their time, especially for a Southern boy who grew up in a deeply segregated city. 

No, Hornung was a class act on and off the field. A Southern gentleman in the best sense of the word. 

Not sure we'll ever see another one like him.