Legendary professional football coach
Vincent Thomas Lombardi was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 11, 1913. He was the oldest of five children to parents Henry and Matilda Lombardi. Vincent was raised Catholic and studied for the priesthood for 2 years before transferring to Saint Thomas Preparatory High School. While there he became a star fullback for the team. Lombardi was accepted at Fordham University in New York City in 1933. There he also played football, and after one year on the freshman squad became a varsity guard, one of the "Seven Blocks of Granite" on the staunch offensive line. His coach at Fordham was 'Sleepy" Jim Crowley, who had been one of Notre Dame's famed "Four Horsemen" under Knute Rockne in 1924. He also excelled academically, graduating cum laude with a business degree in 1937.
Vince Lombardi was a busy man. After graduating, he worked the next 2 years for a finance company, took night classes at Fordham Law School, and played semi-pro football for the Wilmington Clippers in Delaware. In 1939 he landed a coaching/teaching position at Saint Cecilia High School in Englewood, New Jersey. His duties were to teach chemistry, algebra, physics and Latin as well as coach the school's football, basketball and baseball teams. Vincent married Marie Planitz the following year (1940) and they were to have two children, a son named Vince, Jr. and a daughter named Susan. Vince taught and coached at St. Cecilia's until 1947, when he took a position coaching at his alma mater Fordham University. He spent his first year at Fordham coaching the freshman football team. The second year he moved up to be varsity assistant coach.
Vince Lombardi had caught the eye of Earl 'Colonel Red' Blaik, who lured him away from Fordham to coach the defensive line at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. There under Blaik, who was considered the greatest coach of his day. Lombardi worked 17 hour days and perfected his technique. Blaik believed in basic plays, perfect execution, and maintaining professionalism on the field.
Lombardi left West Point in 1954 to manage the defensive strategy for the New York Giants. Before Lombardi arrived, the Giants had a 3-9 season. Within 3 years, the Giants became a championship team and for the five years of Lombardi's tenure, they never had a losing season. Lombardi was ably complimented by the efforts of future football coaching great Tom Landry. Lombardi changed football legend Frank Gifford from defense to offense and for the next five seasons Gifford was nominated each year as an All-Pro halfback. In 1956 the Giants won the championship, defeating the Chicago Bears for the title.
A fateful decision
Becoming frustrated with being an assistant coach, 1958 saw Vince Lombardi take a five year deal to become general manager and head coach for the lackluster Green Bay Packers. The Packers had won only a single game the year before Lombardi arrived. Vince saw it as an opportunity to prove both his coaching talents and his own abilities. He started preparing for the 1959 season with his hallmark intensive training camp. He expected everything each player had, and a little more. He demanded loyalty, obedience, and dedication. He made them a promise they couldn't refuse, that if they did it his way they would become a championship team. Three years later, on December 31, 1961 at Green Bay's Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers won over the New York Giants 37-0 to become champions of the National Football League.
Expecting no less of himself than he did his players, Lombardi challenged himself to develop new plays and strategies to help his team win. He once went so far as to change the player's number right before a game to confuse the opposition.
In 1967 Lombardi decided to retire from coaching, though staying on as general manager. During the time he was head coach the Green Bay Packers had amassed six division titles, five NFL Championships, and victories in Super Bowls I and II. The Packers had dominated professional football, producing a record of 98-30-4. Lombardi and his team had created more than a winning legacy, they had created a legend and a benchmark for every team to try to attain.
One more time
After sitting on the sidelines for a year, Vince Lombardi found he still had the drive to coach. He took the job of coach to the Washington Redskins in 1969. He maintained his spartan methods of work, preparation, and execution. January 1970 saw the Redskins atop their first winning season in 14 years. Lombardi's record now stood at 105-35-6. He had never had a losing season as head coach. The NFL named him their "1960's Man of the Decade".
Vince Lombardi was unable to lead another team to the Super Bowl. He was diagnosed with intestinal cancer and died September 3, 1970. Many fans traveled across the country to attend services. Tough football players cried openly for the man who had taught them to become champions. President Richard Nixon had sent get well messages during Lombardi's hospitalization, and sent condolences to his family. Over 3,500 people attended to say farewell. Vincent Thomas Lombardi was laid to rest at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Middletown, NJ.
The achievement of Vince Lombardi was to teach and inspire a team. He taught that with effort, dedication, and execution a team can overcome anyone who demanded less of themselves. He did it for years at Green Bay. He proved it was no fluke with the Washington Redskins. It would have been interesting to see what he could have achieved had his life not been cut short. In that one year with the Redskins, he taught them to believe in themselves. He laid the foundation for their future success.
Vince Lombardi became a member of the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1971. That same year the trophy for the Super Bowl was renamed in his honor. The Vince Lombardi Trophy is the symbol of the highest achievement possible for a professional football team. That embodies Vince Lombardi's philosophy, to always achieve the very highest of which each is capable. The Vince Lombardi Trophy assures his name continues just as his legacy of effort and excellence continues.
Vince Lombardi was named NFL Coach of the Year in 1959.
He became a charter inductee into Fordham University's Hall of Fame in 1970.
He was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame in 1975.
Vince Lombardi was named by ESPN "Coach of the Century" in 2000.
Vince Lombardi is quoted as saying "I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is the moment he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle- victorious."
He is also credited with having said "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."
Finally, he said "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser."