GREEN BAY – Paul Hornung is still sharp as a tack.
The Green Bay Packers legendary running back, Pro Football Hall of Famer and Notre Dame’ 1956 Heisman Trophy winner will turn 77 next month, and while he’s prone to his occasional grumpy old man moments – don’t ask him about who’s wearing ol’ No. 5 for the Fighting Irish these days – he’s also up to speed on his old team and the issues facing the NFL in terms of player safety.
He’s also still good for a laugh or two – or a dozen. Just get him started on his old antics with his best friend and ex-Packers roommate, the late Max McGee.
“I’m thinking about writing a book,” Hornung said during a visit on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com’s Green & Gold Today on Tuesday. “We had many stories accumulated through the Lombardi Era about ‘Run to Daylight,’ the saying as far as the (famous) sweep was concerned.
“I’m thinking about writing a book about Max and I. We of course roomed together for nine years, and we were like brothers. And I’m going to call it ‘Run ‘Til Daylight.’ Which I think we did a pretty good job of when we were in Green Bay.”
Later, Hornung joked about Milwaukee, saying, “If there hadn’t been Milwaukee, I don’t know what McGee and I would’ve done during those years. Green Bay, if you’ve been up there for four days, you’ve just about seen it all. It was good for us to get to Milwaukee and find a couple good-looking fiancées.”
(To listen to the podcast of Hornung’s visit, click here.)
Hornung was much more serious when discussing the Packers’ chances this season, his admiration for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the safety issues facing the NFL.
A pinched nerve in Hornung's neck limited his playing time in 1966 – he didn’t play in Super Bowl I, and was selected in the expansion draft by the New Orleans Saints – and his career ended before he ever played a down in New Orleans because of his neck problems.
“I think it’s good for the league to really take an interest in a very serious (issue). I think the players have to be well aware of (head injuries),” said Hornung, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1986. “I was very worried about (Denver Broncos quarterback) Peyton Manning, for instance, because I had the same type of injury when I had to quit.”
Hornung said he had a doctor in New Orleans clear him for action, but he went for a second opinion in San Diego that ultimately ended his career.
“The doctor (in San Diego) said, ‘Who in the hell told you that you could play?’ He called (the other doctor) immediately,” Hornung recalled. “He said, ‘Hornung, you’re crazy if you play. You get hit a certain way, you’ll be a paraplegic.’ So I retired that day.
“So I called Archie Manning when Peyton was going through this, and I just reiterated to him, I just said, ‘Make sure you’re getting as many doctors’ opinions as you can.’ It looks like he’s been cleared, and he’s done a great job. I’m so happy he’s gone so far without injury.”
Hornung is also happy to be watching Rodgers and the Packers, who enter Sunday’s game at the New York Giants at 7-3 and tied for the lead at the top of the NFC North. Hornung said he comes up to a couple of Packers games a year – he lives in Louisville, Ky. – and is mulling buying one of the luxury boxes that will be part of the south end zone expansion.
“The Packers are going to be tough. Anytime you’ve got Rodgers, you can be anybody,” Hornung said. “He’s fantastic. He’s one of the great quarterbacks not only in Green Bay history but (of all-time). He’s so unique. He (more or less) invented the back-shoulder pass … very few guys know how to throw it. He’s just been phenomenal for the Packers.
“He’s going to go down as one of the great quarterbacks (ever). Brett Favre had some sensational years there, there’s no question about it. And I wish the Packers fans would get off their high horse and understand where Brett was coming from, he loves the Packers.
“But this kid is a unique quarterback, he’s one of the best not only in Packers history but he’s going to rank as one of the great quarterback when he retires from pro football.”
Hornung was appearing on the show to promote the auction of a number of his memorabilia items for charity. SCP Auctions is conducting an online auction that began last week and includes a reissue of his Heisman Trophy, among other items.
Hornung said he sold his first Heisman Trophy for $250,000 and used the money to establish a scholarship fund at Notre Dame, got a second that the school displays at its facility and a third that the Packers Hall of Fame has on display.
“If people keep buying them, I’m going to keep selling them for charity,” he said.
Other items include championship rings, photographs and other memorabilia. Hornung and his wife Angela did not have children, so he saw the auction as a way to raise money for charities he supports, including a youth football league in Louisville. For more information, visit www.scpauctions.com.
“What am I going to do with the stuff that’s just laying in the closet?” he said.
In the meantime, Hornung will continue following his beloved Packers and Fighting Irish. Just don’t ask him why both defensive star Manti Te'o and quarterback Everett Golson wear his No. 5. He doesn’t mind that they have his number, he just wants answers.
“That’s fine, I don’t care,” said Hornung, who actually called the school wondering how two key players – one on each side of the ball – can be wearing the same number. (He was told that both wanted the No. 5 and the school OK’d it.)
“(But) these stupid announcers, they get on the air and they don’t even explain that. I listen to these dummies, and they don’t even mention anything about that.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.