Jerry Kramer on fellow Packers great Paul Hornung: 'I just enjoyed the hell out of him'
GREEN BAY - The first time Jerry Kramer went out on the town with Paul Hornung after a Green Bay Packers game was either in the 1959 or ’60 season.
Kramer, Hornung, teammates Max McGee and Ron Kramer drove to Milwaukee and ended up at a large dance hall with at least 500 in attendance that night.
At one point, a man got on the microphone and said hello to and introduced the Packers players in the crowd. Then he asked if Hornung wanted to come on stage and sing.
Kramer was appalled the guy put Hornung on the spot like that by asking someone who’s not a singer to perform in front of that big a crowd. But Hornung responded, “Hell yeah,” bounded to the stage and danced while belting out an old 1930s standard, “Goody Goody,”
“I said ‘Holy (crap), this guy can do anything, everything,” Kramer said.
That story encapsulates what Hornung, the star among stars of the Vince Lombardi-era Packers, was both on and off the football field, and how he earned the nickname, “The Golden Boy.”
Hornung, the fun-loving and talented Lombardi favorite, died Friday at the age of 84 after a long battle with dementia.
Hornung was a Pro Football Hall of Fame player because of his versatile ability running and throwing from the left halfback position that was the key to Lombardi’s offense, and for setting NFL scoring records by doubling as the team’s kicker for several years as well. He was equally well known for enjoying a varied and vibrant social life.
“Bright, aware, funny, passionate,” said Kramer, who joined Hornung in the Hall of Fame last year. “Just a hell of a guy. I just enjoyed the hell out of him. I always felt lucky to be wherever the hell we were together. Wherever the hell we happened to be, it was always fun to be with Paul. (He) always had a little more personality and a little more depth than you expected.”
What Kramer remembers most of Hornung the player was his awareness and intelligence. Kramer was one of the lead blockers on the famed Lombardi sweep, and he said Hornung had unfailing instincts when following a block to get the most out of the play.
“He’d use me as a shield,” Kramer said. “He’d get the precise distance behind me so when we got to that cornerback or that safety or that linebacker, the guy had to make a decision whether to go down after my knees or go right or left. Paul would help him with that decision by stepping one step, say, to the left, and faking with his head and body like he was definitely going left. Well, the guy would come in and Paul would run around me and down the sideline. He’d set you up. I told him one time I could have run down the field blindfolded and he still would have set me up for some great blocks.”
Cliff Christl, the Packers’ historian, has reported that Lombardi in a speech in Oshkosh after Hornung’s final season called the halfback “the finest player I ever coached.” Kramer agreed that Hornung was the best Packers player of the Lombardi era. Besides being a dual run-pass threat at halfback, Hornung also was the Packers’ primary kicker from 1958 through ’64.
“I did (think he was the best),” Kramer said. “He was a double threat. Jimmy (Taylor) was a more powerful runner than Paul – Paul was trying to run around somebody, Jimmy was trying to run over them. So their style was dramatically different. But Paul was a perfect guy to run the option because he saw the field and knew where (the defenders) were and what they were doing. He rarely made a mistake on whether to throw the ball or keep the ball, he could see the whole field.
“Paul could score five touchdowns in a game, kick half-a-dozen extra points and fields, and throw the ball, and probably coach if he had to. He had a great combination of brain and body.”
Hornung was equally adept off the field. Kramer said going with Hornung to the Kentucky Derby was an event in itself – Hornung was born and raised in Louisville – and he never had more fun than when Hornung was around.
“Any situation you put him in he said the right thing, did the right thing,” Kramer said. “He was a principled guy, too. He had some weaknesses. He had an affection for the ladies that was powerful and fun. He enjoyed himself. I went to the Derby with him a couple times, had sensational times. Anywhere you went with him it was fun and great to be there.”