By Michael LeCompte
Playoff hype is in full swing this week as Tom Brady, the NFL’s current “Golden Boy,” and the Patriots gear up for another postseason run. Outside of New England another Brady playoff march is utterly uninteresting, though, and leaves most fans wondering what if?
What if the NFL had been able to make Brady’s four game suspension stick? Would the Patriots still be primed for the playoffs?
Once upon a time, before multi-million dollar contracts, billion dollar television deals, lawyers, agents, and an all-powerful player’s union, the NFL could and did hold its players-even superstars accountable.
In the NFL of the 1960’s Paul Hornung was the “Golden Boy.” The Brady of his day Hornung, who played halfback and kicker in the pros, had the blonde hair, movie star looks and superior athletic skill. He remains the only player in NFL history to win the Heisman (1956 at Notre Dame), be the first pick in the draft, be named league MVP, win a Super Bowl (SB I with Green Bay), and be elected to the Hall of Fame.
In his prime Hornung seemed to have it all, yet like Brady today he wanted or for some reason needed more and found himself in trouble with the league concerning his actions and the sanctity of football.
In 1963 NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Hornung, along with Alex Karras of the Lions, indefinitely for betting on NFL games.
Hornung called his actions “a mistake” and after some hard lobbying on his behalf by his coach Vince Lombardi, was reinstated to the NFL after serving a one year suspension on the condition that he stay out of Las Vegas and no longer attend the Kentucky Derby every year.
Eventually Hornung’s legal issue was forgotten, overshadowed by one of the greatest careers in football history. Now 79, Hornung says of his betting on football, “I broke the rules and had to accept my punishment.” His legacy remains largely untarnished because he admitted his transgressions, paid the price then moved on.
That is the main difference between the “Golden Boy” of yesteryear and Brady. With the aid of lawyers, his union, and the courts he managed to move on without ever admitting anything. If Brady had simply stated what every fan already knows-that he cheated, and remorsefully served his suspension all would have been forgiven. However, Brady denied everything and his team hasn’t missed a beat.
The playoffs are here, where games become epics, instant classics in which mere men are transformed into gridiron gods right on our TV screens. It’s enough to make fans yearn for a simpler time when the game of football was played for fun and even gold could tarnish.