“Winning is not a sometime thing, it is an all the time thing. You don’t do things right once in a while…you do them right all the time.” Vince Lombardi (1913-1970)
Vince Lombardi would've turned 100 years old earlier this week, and we at NFL Draft Insiders want to take some time to reflect on the contributions of the man whom the Super Bowl trophy is named for. Long considered the greatest head coach in football history, Vince Lombardi had to work harder and longer than anyone to get what he desperately wanted: an NFL head coaching job. After completing his college playing career at Fordham as one of the “Seven Blocks of Granite”, he began the long journey to football immortality.
After working in the finance industry and attending law school during the evenings, Lombardi accepted a high school head coaching position with St. Cecelia High School in Englewood, New Jersey, where in eight seasons, he led the football program to six parochial school state championships. It was also during this time period that he married his high school sweetheart, Marie. From St. Cecelia's, he returned to Fordham as an assistant coach for two seasons prior to accepting the offensive coordinator position at West Point, working for and learning from Hall of Fame coach Red Blaik.
Lombardi grew increasingly frustrated during his tenure at West Point, as fellow assistants on the staff were being hired consistently to take over programs as head coaches. He had applied to Wake Forest University, and someone close to the situation informed him that although many were in favor of hiring him as head coach, they couldn't justify hiring a man whose last name ended in a vowel—a direct display of discrimination and racism against his Italian ethnicity, a common occurrence during this time period. Undeterred, Lombardi continued at West Point until and opportunity to apply for the vacant head coaching job with the NFL's New York Giants became available.
Many within professional football believed Lombardi was the logical choice, having cut his teeth at both the high school and college ranks, but the Giants were more interested in the coach Lombardi worked for, Blaik rather than Lombardi. Blaik informed Wellington Mara, owner of the Giants that he would be a fool if he didn't hire Lombardi to at least run his team's offense. Lombardi was hired to take over and provided leadership and guidance, turning Frank Gifford into a Hall of Fame football player. While Lombardi was the only voice on offense, a fellow soon to be great NFL legendary coach was running the Giants defense: Tom Landry.
After helping lead the Giants to the 1956 NFL championship, he applied for, and was hired to coach what at the time, was considered Siberia of the NFL, the Green Bay Packers. Before accepting the job in Green Bay, he insisted to the Packers board of directors (they were community owned), that he would also fill the role as the team's general manager, and wanted final say on all football-related decisions. The board relented and agreed, and the Vince Lombardi era in Green Bay began.
Unlike other places around the league, Lombardi's dedication to long, grueling practices separated the men from the boys early on in his tenure. The Packers were a one-win team the season prior to Lombardi's arrival, and remembering the hurtful experience of the Wake Forest application, he knew if he failed in Green Bay, he would never receive another chance to coach. In his first season, the Packers made the playoffs, and during his legendary run in Green Bay, he led the team to six division titles, three NFL championships, and victories in the first two Super Bowls.
One of Lombardi's trademarks was his never-ending pursuit of running the “power sweep” to perfection. Considered a very basic play, it requires all components of the offensive to work perfectly in tune with one another to be executed properly. What made Lombardi such a great coach and teacher, was his willingness to fixate on a man's effort rather than dwelling on his mistakes.
After completing his run in Green Bay, Lombardi briefly retired from coaching football. He returned in 1969 as the head coach of the Washington Redskins. After a 14-year winning season drought, Lombardi's Redskins finished 7-5-2. He laid the groundwork in Washington for a successful decade in the 1970s as George Allen would take the reigns soon after.
Prior to the start of the 1970 season, Lombardi was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, and he passed away 10 weeks later at the age of 57. Shortly after the Coach's death, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle announced that the Super Bowl trophy would carry the name of Lombardi for the remainder of the league's existence. Vince Lombardi was elected posthumously to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. Lombardi coached several future Hall of Fame players, including Jerry Kramer and Bart Starr.
The impact that Vince Lombardi has had on the game of football is immeasurable. Common drills, offensive schemes, game film analysis, practice and game preparations were all strategies that existed prior to Lombardi, but were changed forever as a result of Lombardi. As we remember the coach on what would've been his 100th birthday, we can safely speak for everyone that has ever played, coached, watched, and has enjoyed the game of football when we at NFL Draft Insiders say “Happy Birthday Coach!”
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