Hornung, Brown recall why Notre Dame is an NFL favorite

Heisman Trophy winners Paul Hornung and Tim Brown explain what makes Notre Dame great and why the NFL believes its an annual deep fountain of talent.

A visit with two of Notre Dame’s greatest players kicks off the Talk of Fame Network's six-week pre-draft series on the most productive college football programs from the NFL’s perspective. No surprise that Notre Dame is high among them.

Heisman Trophy winners, Pro Football Hall-of-Famers and Golden Domers Paul Hornung and Tim Brown visit with co-hosts Ron Borges, Rick Gosselin and Clark Judge this week to offer their recollections on football life at Notre Dame and how it prepared them for the NFL and beyond.

“Those four years were one of the great experiences of my life,’’ said Hornung.

Of all those experiences none was more remarkable than winning the Heisman Trophy in 1956 on a team that went 2-8. Hornung is the only player to win the Heisman from a losing team, a fact he said he’s as proud of as he is his championship years with Vince Lombardi’s Packers.

“I had a lot of votes as a junior so when I got to my senior year I was kind of a favorite,’’ Hornung said. “I’m proud no one else ever won the Heisman Trophy with a record like that.’’

Tim Brown’s arrival at Notre Dame came at a time when the program was struggling under head coach Gerry Faust. So why did he pick Notre Dame instead of Oklahoma, Nebraska or the other high profile schools recruiting him?

“It was all about the education,’’ Brown recalled. “My Mom and Dad sat me down and said, ‘Boy you have no future in football but at Notre Dame, if you practice one week and quit you have your scholarship for five years.’’’

Brown said he knew so little about Notre Dame when he arrived on campus from Dallas he didn’t even know their iconic fight song. After Lou Holtz arrived he learned it and a lot more, including that he could be more than he or his parents thought he could be.

“Lou turned it all around for me,’’ recalled Brown, who in 1987 would become the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy. “I was focused on my education and getting a job. He asked me, ‘Why didn’t they play you? No coaching staff in America is so stupid not to play you.’ He told me I could be the best player in the country. I trusted him more than I trusted myself.’’

The NFL trusted both Hornung and Brown, and it paid off. Hornung became the NFL’s overall No. 1 pick in 1957, and Brown became the sixth player taken in 1988, two more reminders that when NFL teams look for talent Notre Dame is one of the first campuses they turn to.

“Notre Dame is not an easy place to get into,’’ Brown said of playing there. “Certainly a bond is established (among Golden Domers of all eras). It was a special place. It still is.’’

Our own Hall-of-Fame guys also discuss with Hall-of-Fame voter Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com whom they like in this year’s draft and in the free agency class that went on the market this week. There seems to be a rare consensus among them that Myles Garrett is the best player in the 2017 draft and that teams searching for a quarterback best find him in free agency.

This being the 34th anniversary of the dawn of the USFL, our guys also revisit that league’s high – and low – moments from Herschel Walker’s arrival to Donald Trump’s departure and get Jim Mora’s recollections of his days coaching the Philadelphia Stars to multiple USFL titles.

There’s all that plus a breakdown of Notre Dame’s greatest coach, player (ever heard of Johnny Lattner?), game and more.

The show can be heard on SB Nation Radio, Sirius Radio, by downloading the show’s free podcast at iTunes or by going to our website, talkoffamenetwork.com and clicking on the helmet logo.