Life & Story of Vince Lombardi
The 2015 NFL Season is underway. In February, spectators everywhere will witness the 50th Super Bowl, with the winner taking home the highly coveted Lombardi Trophy. The Lombardi Trophy reminds fans of arguably one of the greatest football coaches of all time. September 3rd, 2015 was the 45-year anniversary of his death.
Vincent Lombardi was born to a Catholic family on June 11, 1913, in Brooklyn, New York. Lombardi was the first born to his father, Harry, and mother, Matilda, who were both Italian immigrants. Despite growing up in a comfortable home, Lombardi learned the value of hard work by helping out in his father’s butcher shop. Lombardi was fascinated with sports from a young age and would frequently take trips to see Yankee, Dodger, and Giant games. His father supported his interest in sports and would help set up street football games with other children, although his mother feared football was too dangerous. Lombardi especially began to love the game of football because of the physical nature of the sport.
Lombardi enrolled in the Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception Preparatory Seminary to study priesthood at the age of 15. Lombardi excelled in both the school’s baseball and basketball team. In his senior year of high school, Lombardi decided against a religious career path and transferred schools. Lombardi was awarded a football scholarship for St. Francis Prep High School in Brooklyn. He started every game at defensive guard and also on offense as the star halfback. When it was time for college, Lombardi moved to Fordham University on another football scholarship. Lombardi played offensive guard all four years at Fordham and was part of the famous “Seven Blocks of Granite.”
After graduating in 1937, Lombardi took night classes at Fordham Law School while working for a finance company. A year later, he made the roster on a semi-professional football team, the Wilmington Clippers of the American Football Association. After only a year with the team, Lombardi realized that coaching was the best suit for his competitive spirit and accepted an assistant coaching job at St. Cecilla’s High School in Englewood, New Jersey. At this high school, he coached both basketball and baseball while also teaching several classes. Lombardi was loyal to St. Cecilla and even turned down job offers in construction that paid substantially larger salaries.
In 1947, Lombardi returned to coach the freshman football team at his alma mater, Fordham University. Lombardi left to coach offensive line under legendary coach Earl Blaik at West Point. Blaik was famous for training assistant coaches who were then offered head coaching positions elsewhere. Lombardi’s perfectionistic personality matched Blaik’s and they worked well together at West Point until Lombardi found his first NFL job in 1954 with the New York Giants under coach Jim Lee Howell. Lombardi was an assistant alongside fellow future Hall-of-Fame coach Tom Landry. After turning down an offer for the Philadelphia Eagles head coaching position in 1958, Lombardi accepted a tempting dual-position offer from the Green Bay Packers in the following season.
Lombardi served both as the head coach and general manager for the Green Bay Packers in 1959 after the team recorded their ninth losing season in eleven years. On Lombardi’s first day in Green Bay, he made his word the law of the land, assuring the players “there are trains and planes going out of here every day, and any man who doesn’t want to work will be on them.” Lombardi was a strong leader and intense speaker. He instilled respect between each member of his team and held a high standard for self-discipline. Every player followed “Lombardi Time” which demanded every player be no less than 10-minutes early for any meeting or team activity.
Lombardi finished with a record of 7-5 in his first year with the Packers, improving the team from a one-win previous season. Lombardi’s impressive year earned him the NFL Coach of the Year in 1959. Lombardi brought his team to the NFL West championship in the following 1960 season but fell short by four points to the Philadelphia Eagles. Lombardi went on to win five NFL Championships (including the first two Super Bowls) in his nine years with the Packers. Lombardi remains the only coach in NFL history to win three consecutive championships. Throughout the 60’s, Green Bay was nicknamed Titletown, USA, thanks to Lombardi’s coaching success. Lombardi finished his coaching career in Green Bay with 98 wins, 30 losses, and four ties. His postseason record was an astonishing 9-1.
The Packers never recorded a season with a losing record under Lombardi.
Lombardi found himself bored during his one-year retirement. The following season, he accepted a position as the head coach for the Washington Redskins. In his final year of coaching, he led the Redskins to a 7-5 record after the team had previously spent 13 years without a winning season. However, Lombardi was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1969 and died on September 3, 1970, at the age of 57. Lombardi’s finished his coaching career with a winning percentage of 74, which is the second-best in NFL history. Lombardi was unanimously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971.
Lombardi was a high-energy leader who encouraged a holistic view of life. In the end, his biggest goal was to open the untapped potential in each and every one of his players and not only encourage them to be better athletes but a better person as a whole. Lombardi quoted, “Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal or any goal.”