Vince Lombardi

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Vincent Thomas Lombardi (June 11, 1913September 3, 1970) was one of the most successful coaches in the history of American football. As head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1959 to 1967, and the Washington Redskins in 1969, he compiled a combined record (including postseason games) of 105-35-6. He never had a losing season as head coach, and his postseason successes were particularly remarkable. His Green Bay teams dominated the National Football League during his tenure, winning five championships over the span of nine years. The only playoff game he ever lost was his first one, in 1960; he never lost another postseason game. He was the only coach to win three consecutive NFL championship games (1965, 1966, and 1967), and his Packers won the first two Super Bowls. The Super Bowl trophy bears his name. He was married to Marie Lombardi.

Lombardi's teams were characterized by the precise execution of their offensive plays (the most famous of which was the Packer power sweep), but just as important to his success was Lombardi's skill as a motivator.

One of the most famous games in the history of football was the NFL championship game of 1967, in which his team played the Dallas Cowboys in Green Bay. The game time temperature was −13 F (−25 C), and the game has come to be known as the Ice Bowl. Near the end of the game, with time running out, the Packers were behind by three points, and near the goal line. Their quarterback, Bart Starr, ran a quarterback sneak, with guard Jerry Kramer taking out Dallas player Jethro Pugh; Starr scored the touchdown and won the game in the final seconds. The play actually called for Starr to hand off to Chuck Mercein, a little known running back who had played a major part in propelling the Packers down the field on the final drive. But Starr, feeling the field was too icy and footing too precarious, decided to keep the ball and dive in himself, surprising even his own teammates. Lombardi, explaining why he had not chosen to kick a game-tying field goal, said of that play, "We gambled and we won."

Lombardi's success is legendary, and he is often associated with the maxim, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." However, he did not coin this phrase, and it is uncertain if he ever even said it; however, he was quoted as saying something somewhat different: "Winning isn't everything, but wanting to is." Sportswriter Paul Zimmerman, who claims to have been at the banquet where these immortally misquoted words were spoken, writes in his The Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football that Lombardi actually said, "Winning isn't the most important thing; it's the only thing."

Born in New York City, Lombardi graduated from St. Francis Preparatory High School in Brooklyn, New York. In 1937, when Lombardi played football at Fordham University, he and his teammates ran up a string of 25 straight victories. In many of the games the opponents went scoreless. The Fordham front line, of which Lombardi was a member, became known as the Seven Blocks of Granite.

Lombardi started his coaching career as an assistant coach for Fordham University and later at West Point. He became Offensive Coordinator for the New York Giants in the mid 1950's. While Lombardi coached offense, Tom Landry coached the defense. Jim Lee Howell was Head Coach, but the two future hall of fame coaches created a fanatical loyalty within each unit that drove the NY Giants to repeated NFL championships. Lombardi left the Giants in 1959 to become the Head Coach of the Packers. He quickly converted Paul Hornung, the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Notre Dame to halfback, running the same offense that had featured Frank Gifford as a pass-option player. Thus, the Green Bay Packer power sweep was created.

In 1968, realizing how popular Lombardi was, Richard Nixon supposedly considered naming him his running mate for the election, only to be reminded by an advisor that Lombardi was a Kennedy Democrat.

In 1970 Lombardi died of cancer. A charitable foundation was established in his honor, dedicated to cancer research.

See also

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