LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Paul Hornung believes Brett Favre will one day be welcomed back with open arms by the Green Bay faithful. The Hall of Famer just thinks it will take time.
"Then everybody will be over it," Hornung said with a laugh.
The former Green Bay star says Favre's departure from the team three seasons ago was difficult for all involved, but added those days seem like a distant memory now that the Packers are soaring under budding superstar Aaron Rodgers.
"He's getting better every game and he's the best quarterback in the league right now," Hornung said.
Rodgers will get a chance to prove it on the game's biggest stage when he leads Green Bay into the Super Bowl against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Feb. 6.
The 75-year-old Hornung is picking his old team — naturally — to beat the Steelers by a field goal and thinks this could be the start of a dynasty similar to the one he helped the team build in the 1960s, when coach Vince Lombardi led Green Bay to five NFL titles and victories in the first two Super Bowls.
Hornung pointed to the large number of injuries Green Bay had this season as proof even better days are ahead. The Packers placed 16 players on injured reserve during the season. When those players are healthy, watch out.
"Next year when everybody's back, they're going to have the best football team in America, they're really going to be special," Hornung said.
Some of the Packers already are in Hornung's mind, namely Rodgers, who has deftly guided the team to its fifth Super Bowl appearance while stepping out of Favre's considerable shadow.
"This quarterback has had a special year, he's been absolutely double-sensational," Hornung said. "He's the best passer I've ever seen running to his left. I've never seen somebody come out of the pocket and control the ball like he does. He is very, very accurate."
Hornung would know. He played alongside fellow Hall of Famer Bart Starr in Green Bay and was a pretty decent passer in his own right during his career Notre Dame, where he won the 1956 Heisman Trophy and earned the nickname "The Golden Boy" for his flowing locks and his playmaking ability on both sides of the ball.
That kind of versatility is hard to find these days, one of the reasons he thought it was important to find a way to honor players who serve as throwbacks to a bygone era. Hornung, working with the Louisville Sports Commission, created the Paul Hornung Award to salute the most versatile players in college football.
Stanford fullback/linebacker Owen Marecic beat out Kentucky's Randall Cobb and TCU's Jeremy Kerley to become the inaugural winner. Hornung and Marecic celebrated Tuesday at a banquet in the player's honor.
"It's the only award left out there," Hornung said. "There are awards for just about everything in college football, but not for players with unique talents like Owen."
Those are talents Marecic hopes to take to the NFL, where he sees himself playing fullback. Hornung thinks Marecic would have fit right in on the Packers teams of the 60s.
"He's a tough kid, Lombardi would have liked that," Hornung said.
Hornung shakes his head at how big the game has become and remembers all the empty seats at the old L.A. Coliseum when the Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl.
He watched Green Bay pound its way to a 35-10 win from the sideline, hampered by a neck injury that would ultimately end his career.
Hornung said Lombardi asked him at one point if he'd like to go in the game. Hornung declined, saying the risk outweighed the reward. Still, the $15,000 winner's check proved to be pretty sweet, even though today's players will earn more than six times that much for capturing the Lombardi Trophy.
He believes that team will be Green Bay again, with the Packers making the tiny Wisconsin town Titletown again.
"They have that look," he said. "I remember being on teams that had that look."