Born in 1913, Vince Lombardi’s first coaching stint was as a high school football coach at St. Cecilia in New Jersey, following his college years as a lineman at Fordham University. After guiding St. Cecilia to several state championships, Lombardi, in 1949, moved on to West Point, where he assisted Red Blaik, the most successful college football coach in America at that time. In 1953, Vince joined the pro ranks, becoming the New York Giants offensive coordinator. After six successful campaigns in New York, Lombardi took on the job that would define his career, and reshape the NFL. Green Bay was considered pro-football’s version of Siberia at the time of Lombardi’s arrival, as the Packers had finished 1-10-1 in 1958. Under Lombardi, Green Bay went 7-5 in 1959, and in 1960, played for the league championship, losing 17-13 to the Philadelphia Eagles. From that point on, the Packers became the dominate team of the 1960’s, winning five NFL titles, and the first two Super Bowls. Stepping down as Packer head coach after the second Super Bowl win in 1968, Lombardi spent one season in the Green Bay front office, before leaving the Packer organization to return to the sideline as head coach of the Washington Redskins in 1969. Leading the Redskins to their best record in 14 years, Lombardi became ill shortly before the start of the following season, and died of cancer on September 3rd, 1970.
“Lombardi” does an excellent job in separating the man from the legend. Through his son Vincent and daughter Susan, we learn the Vince Lombardi was not an ideal father, while former players Frank Gifford and Bart Starr reveal their roles in helping Lombardi better relate to his players. One of the more intriguing stories in “Lombardi” relates how the failure of the underground heating system that Vince Lombardi had installed beneath the grass at Lambeau Field resulted in the conditions now known as the 1967 Green Bay versus Dallas “Ice Bowl.”
As often is the case in American culture, Vince Lombardi’s untimely death at age 57 only added to his legend, as demonstrated by the NFL naming the Super Bowl trophy after him shortly after his passing. One might wonder what might have happened if Lombardi would have lived long enough to coach through the 1970’s. Could Lombardi have duplicated his success of the proceeding decade, or would he have fallen short to the likes of Don Shula, Chuck Noll and Tom Landry?