By Brian Hoffman – Sports Editor
Two stars of my childhood pass away
I turned 68 this week and when you get that age one of the sad things is seeing sports stars you watched as a kid passing away one by one. Two more left us in the past week as football’s Paul Hornung died at age 84 and basketball’s Tommy Heinsohn died at 86.
Hornung would have had a tough time playing today with the way the social media is. He had a reputation for being a lady’s man and a carouser and you had to really be on the wild side to get that reputation in the early ‘60s.
He was a great player who could literally do it all. He was a quarterback in college at Notre Dame and won the Heisman Trophy despite playing on a team that went 2-8. That would never happen today.
“The Golden Boy” was the first pick of the 1957 draft by the Packers and was a key member of the great Packer teams under Vince Lombardi. He played halfback for the Packers but also passed the ball and was the placekicker at a time when no one had a guy on the team “just to kick.” He once scored 77 points in a month, a record that stood for 41 years before LaDainian Tomlinson broke it by one point.
I was privileged to meet Hornung in 1994 when he was the guest speaker at the Stagg Bowl banquet in Salem. Charlie Hammersley, who was then head of Parks and Recreation in Salem, and I picked him up at the airport and took him to Mac & Bob’s for breakfast along with Terry Murphy, a big Notre Dame fan who asked to join us. And, if you’re thinking Mac & Bob’s didn’t serve breakfast in 1994 you’re correct, but Bob and Joe made it special for Hornung on his trip to Salem.
“Paul told us that he loved watching D3 football,” said Hammersley. “He said these kids love the game.”
Ironically, from what I remember he talked a lot about gambling. Hornung was suspended for the 1963 season by NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle for betting on games and associating with undesirable persons, along with Detroit Lions star Alex Karras. Both were reinstated in 1964.
Unlike Pete Rose, the gambling didn’t keep him out of the Hall of Fame, as Hornung was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio in 1986, and he’s also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
Heinsohn was an all-time great on one of the NBA’s storied franchises. He was a key player on a run of eight Boston Celtics’ championships in nine years, including seven straight from 1959 to 1965. He retired after that season but was head coach of the team from 1969 until 1978, winning two NBA titles in that capacity.
The colorful Heinsohn also worked in TV and radio. In addition to doing Celtics games he did national college and NBA network games on CBS. His raspy voice and unbridled opinions made him a popular analyst and he was still working some Celtics game as recently as 2015 at 80 years of age.
Being a 76ers fan, Heinsohn was always one of “the enemy” for me. However, I enjoyed his passion and he did one of my all-time favorite commercials for a men’s clothing store in Philadelphia. I think it was “Krass Brothers” but I’m not positive, but we’ll go with that for the sake of the story.
In the commericial, Heinsohn came on talking about how he hated to come to Philadelphia because everywhere he went he heard, “Hey Heinsohn, ya bum.” Then he discovered Krass Brothers Men’s Store, and after that he didn’t mind coming to Philadelphia because he stopped in to buy a suit whenever he was in town.
“Now,” said Heinsohn, “when I come to Philadelphia I hear, ‘Hey Heinsohn, ya bum. . . . . .where did you get the good lookin’ suit?’.”
Made me laugh every time.