Lombardi, Vincent Thomas ("Vince")
Lombardi, Vincent Thomas ("Vince")
LOMBARDI, Vincent Thomas ("Vince")
(b. 11 June 1913 in New York City; d. 3 September 1970 in Washington, D.C.), coach of the Green Bay Packers football dynasty in the 1960s who was honored by having the Super Bowl trophy named the Lombardi Trophy.
Lombardi was the oldest of five children of the Italian immigrants Henry ("Harry") Lombardi, a butcher and meat wholesaler, and Matilda (Izzo) Lombardi, a homemaker. Lombardi attended Saint Francis Preparatory School in Brooklyn, where he made All-City as a football running back. Lombardi played offensive and defensive guard on the legendary "Seven Blocks of Granite" line at Fordham University in 1935 and 1936 under the head coach Jim Crowley and the assistant coach Frank Leahy. Although only five feet, nine inches tall and weighing between 170 and 175 pounds, Lombardi compensated for his relatively small size with the ferocity of his play. In 1937 he graduated magna cum laude with a B.S. in business administration.
Lombardi taught chemistry, Latin, and physics from 1939 to 1947 at Saint Cecelia's Prep School in Englewood, New Jersey, and coached the football team to six state titles and the basketball team to one state title. He married Marie Planitz on 31 August 1940; they had two children. After serving as freshman football coach in 1947 and varsity offensive coach in 1948 at Fordham University, Lombardi coached the offensive line at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (Army) from 1949 to 1953 under the head coach Earl ("Red") Blaik. From 1954 to 1958 he was offensive coordinator for the New York Giants of the National Football League (NFL) under the coach Jim Lee Howell. Lombardi developed a powerful rushing attack based on the single wing formation. New York overwhelmed the Chicago Bears, 47–7, in the 1956 NFL title game and lost a classic overtime contest, 23–17, to the Baltimore Colts in the 1958 NFL championship game.
In January 1959 the Green Bay Packers named Lombardi head coach and general manager. The Packers, at one time a dominant NFL team, had triumphed only once and tied once in 1958, finishing with a 1–10–1 record. Lombardi revived the sagging Packer franchise, the NFL's only surviving team that was publicly owned by the town in which it played. He handled all phases of team operations, including setting salaries, hiring and firing personnel, and designing uniforms. Lombardi stressed football fundamentals, notably blocking and tackling. He believed that the team that blocked better usually won the game. Lombardi pitted strength against strength and taught zone blocking to facilitate more efficient "runs to daylight." He relied primarily on the single wing formation and preferred a running attack to the forward pass.
Not a true innovator, Lombardi adopted techniques from his loving, perfectionist father, his years at Saint Cecelia's, his belief in the hierarchical system of the Roman Catholic Church, and the lessons he learned from coaches at Fordham and West Point. He utilized the power sweep learned from Crowley and Leahy at Fordham, the passing game learned from the assistant coach Sid Gillman at Army, and execution and organization learned from Blaik at Army. Lombardi, a motivational expert, gave the Packers self-confidence and an intense desire to win. "Winning isn't everything," he said. "It's the only thing." "Fatigue," Lombardi claimed, "makes cowards of us all." Lombardi considered coaching to be teaching, and he worked to achieve excellence by endless repetition and by motivating each of his players. The devout Roman Catholic who once aspired to become a priest implored his players to concentrate on God, family, and the Green Bay Packers. A stern disciplinarian, he set rigid rules to govern the daily lives of his players. Lombardi portrayed strength, precision, intelligence, and excellence, qualities inculcated in his Packers. He held exhausting training camps and grueling practices and engaged in meticulous film study.
Lombardi built the Packers into a formidable dynasty, making him a folk hero. He inherited talent upon his arrival but needed time to develop it. He molded the offense, moving the reserve Bart Starr to first-string quarterback, the reserve Jim Taylor to starting fullback, and the part-time quarterback Paul Horning to full-time running back. The end Ron Kramer, the guard Jerry Kramer, the tackle Forrest Gregg, and the center Jim Ringo made the offensive unit more potent. The offense executed a fundamental power sweep nearly flawlessly. Horning swept around end with Kramer pulling out to lead the formation. Lombardi delighted in using such variations as the halfback option pass by Horning. He also popularized the idea of permitting the runner to "run to daylight," or to choose his own route according to the actions of his blockers. Taylor blasted over Gregg on a weak-side slant. Starr threw deep to the end Max McGee after sucking in the defense with play action on third down and short-yardage situations.
Green Bay quickly showed remarkable progress under Lombardi, winning their first three games, losing their next five, and winning their last four for their first winning season since 1947. Besides drafting the end Boyd Dowler, the Packers acquired the defensive tackle Henry Jordan from Cleveland, the safety Emlen Tunnell from the New York Giants, and the guard Fred ("Fuzzy") Thurston from Baltimore. Thurston joined Jerry Kramer to form a tandem of outstanding offensive guards. The linebackers Ray Nitschke and Dan Currie strengthened the defense. For the Packers' 7–5 season in 1959, Lombardi was named NFL Coach of the Year.
In 1960 Green Bay won eight of twelve games and the Western Conference title. The Packers drafted the halfback Tom Moore, acquired the defensive end Willie Davis from Cleveland, and signed the free-agent safety Willie Wood. Horning set an NFL scoring record with 176 points, while Davis, Jordan, and Wood joined an increasingly potent defense. In the 1960 NFL championship game, the veteran Philadelphia Eagles bested the Packers, 17–13. Lombardi's Packers never lost another NFL title game. The team became profitable, enabling Lombardi to upgrade Green Bay's City Stadium and the training facilities.
Green Bay repeated as Western Conference champions in 1961 with an 11–3 record. Starr firmly controlled the reins at quarterback. Horning commuted from military service at Fort Riley, Kansas, but still scored 146 points. Taylor rushed for 1,307 yards, while Ron Kramer, a pioneer tight end, made thirty-five receptions. The Packers added three rookies to the team, including the defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik, the cornerback Herb Adderley, and the running back Elijah Pitts. The Packers resoundingly defeated Lombardi's old team, the New York Giants, 37–0, in the 1961 NFL championship game at City Stadium.
Green Bay dominated the NFL with a 13–1 record in 1962, winning the Western Conference crown for the third consecutive year. The Packers led the NFL offensively in most points scored and defensively in fewest points permitted. Tom Moore filled in for the injured Horning at half-back, while Ron Kramer became the new kicker. A Thanksgiving Day 26–14 loss to the Detroit Lions denied the Packers a perfect season. Lombardi's squad defeated the New York Giants for the second straight year in the NFL title game, winning 16–7 in a bitterly cold Yankee Stadium.
Green Bay, now known as Title Town, U.S.A., enjoyed another great season with an 11–2–1 mark in 1963, finishing a half game behind the Chicago Bears in the Western Conference. Commissioner Pete Rozelle had suspended Horning indefinitely for betting on NFL games, so Lenny Moore and Pitts filled in for Horning in the backfield. The Packers lost their home opener, 10–3, to the Bears; won eight consecutive games; and then were trounced by the Bears, 26–7. Horning returned in 1964, but the Packers still finished second in the Western Conference, this time to the Colts, with an 8–5–1 record.
Lombardi rebuilt his aging team in 1965, bringing in the kicker Don Chandler from the New York Giants, acquiring the flanker Carroll Dale from the Los Angeles Rams, and promoting the tight end Marv Fleming and the linebacker Dave Robinson to starting roles. The Packers returned to their former glory with a 10–3–1 mark. Green Bay defeated the Baltimore Colts, 13–10, on Don Chandler's field goal in overtime to win the Western Conference title and triumphed over the defending league champion Cleveland Browns, 23–12, at snowy Lambeau Field in January 1966 to reclaim the NFL title. (City Stadium had been renamed Lambeau Field on 11 September 1965 after the death of Curly Lambeau, who founded the Packers' franchise.) Nitschke spearheaded the Packer defense in holding the fullback Jim Brown, the league's leading rusher, to fifty yards rushing.
Green Bay won another Western Conference title with a 12–2 record in 1966. The quarterback Starr led the NFL in passing and was intercepted only three times. The defense led the NFL, giving up just 163 points. Green Bay lost only to the San Francisco 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings by a total of four points. The Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 34–27, for their fourth NFL championship and the American Football League champion Kansas City Chiefs, 35–10, in historic Super Bowl I on 15 January 1967. Starr won the game's Most Valuable Player (MVP) award after completing sixteen passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns.
In 1967 the NFL realigned because of expansion, and Green Bay joined the Central Division with its traditional rivals Chicago, Detroit, and Minnesota. Lombardi coached the injury-riddled Packers to a 9–4–1 mark and the Central Division crown. In a 55–7 victory over Cleveland, Green Bay scored an NFL record thirty-five points in the first quarter. Travis Williams returned four kickoffs for touch-downs. The Packers won a third consecutive Western Conference championship by upsetting the Los Angeles Rams, 28–7, in Milwaukee's County Stadium. Green Bay rallied to defeat the Dallas Cowboys, 21–17, in a classic NFL championship game called the "Ice Bowl," played at a temperature of minus thirteen degrees, with a wind-chill factor of minus fifty-eight, at Lambeau Field. Starr's quarterback sneak from one yard out with just thirteen seconds remaining decided the game. The play, recaptured in Ron Kramer's book Instant Replay, enabled the Packers to become the only modern team to win three straight NFL championships. In Super Bowl II, on 14 January 1968, Green Bay dominated the American Football League champion Oakland Raiders, 33–14. Starr repeated as Super Bowl MVP, completing thirteen passes for 202 yards and one touchdown.
Lombardi resigned as the Packers head coach in February 1968 but remained as general manager. Phil Bengston, the long-time defensive coach, replaced Lombardi as head coach. Lombardi was exhausted by the tensions of coaching and claimed that the demands of the two jobs were too great. In nine years as head coach, Lombardi had built Green Bay into a sports dynasty and national symbol of excellence. He had compiled a regular season record of 98–30–4 and a postseason record of 9–1. He found the season away from coaching very difficult. "I miss the fire on Sunday, and the close camaraderie of the team," he remarked.
In February 1969 Lombardi joined the Washington Redskins as executive vice president, head coach, general manager, and 5 percent owner. The Redskins had finished just 5–9 in 1968. Lombardi guided Washington, led by their star quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and the linebacker Sam Huff, to a 7–5–2 record in 1969 and their first wining season in fourteen years. His mark mirrored that of his first year at Green Bay a decade earlier. In 1970 preseason drills Lombardi became ill. Doctors diagnosed colon cancer that June and treated him at Georgetown University Hospital. Lombardi died from cancer at the age of fifty-seven. His funeral was held in New York City, and he is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Middletown, New Jersey. He received the NFL Distinguished Service Award in 1970 and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. In 2000 ESPN named Lombardi Coach of the Century.
Lombardi, who symbolized authority and discipline, ranks among the most legendary NFL coaches and greatest winners in sport history. The disciplinarian became a symbol of excellence for athletes and business professionals, demanding fair play, striving for perfection, and working hard. He treated veterans and rookies alike and conducted player sessions as strictly business. "Lombardi," Jerry Kramer recalled, "was a cruel, kind, tough, gentle, miserable, wonderful man whom I often hate and often love and always respect."
Lombardi symbolized professional football's success and also represented order and stability in a troubled time. He spoke of the older values of hard work, discipline, loyalty to family and team, duty to God, and respect for one's family. Lombardi openly criticized individualism that lacked personal responsibility and attempted to direct the outside interests of his players. He aligned with professional football's management in its developing quarrels with players over rights and benefits.
Lombardi always struggled to separate his private and professional lives. Devoted to family and close friends, the devout Roman Catholic attended mass daily. He was shy, wary of the press, and difficult to approach, but many players spoke of him with affection and respect. No NFL coach with at least ten seasons compiled a better record. Lombardi finished with a 105–35–6 mark and a .740 winning percentage during the regular season and a 9–1 mark in the playoffs. He guided his teams to six Western Conference crowns, five NFL championships, and two Super Bowl titles. The street on which the Packer offices are located was renamed Lombardi Avenue, while the Super Bowl trophy awarded annually is called the Lombardi Trophy.
Lombardi's autobiographical works are Run to Daylight (1968) and the posthumously published Vince Lombardi on Football (1973). The best biography of Lombardi is David Maraniss, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi (1999). Other biographies include Jerry Kramer, ed., Lombardi: Winning Is the Only Thing (1970), recounting the Green Bay Packers glory days; Tom Dowling, Coach: A Season with Lombardi (1970), reviewing Lombardi's year with the Washington Redskins; Robert W. Wells, Vince Lombardi: His Life and Times (1971); John Wiebusch, ed., Lombardi (1971); Michael O'Brien, Vince: A Personal Biography of Vince Lombardi (1987); Mike Bynum, ed., Vince Lombardi: Memories of a Special Time (1988), and Lombardi: A Dynasty Remembered (1994); Gary R. George, ed., Winning Is a Habit: Vince Lombardi on Winning, Success, and the Pursuit of Excellence (1997); and Vince Lombardi, Jr., What It Takes to Be Number One: Vince Lombardi on Leadership (2000). Biographical information is also in the official Vince Lombardi website at <http://www.vincelombardi.com>. Obituaries are in the Evening Bulletin (Philadelphia) (3 Sept. 1970), the New York Times (4 Sept. 1970), and Time (14 Sept. 1970).
David L. Porter