If you had to have a heated debate with your best friend about the best NFL coaches in the entire history of the game, who would make that list? There are many talented coaches who have graced the sidelines over the years, with many of them cemented into the Hall of Fame.
Coaches like Tom Landry, John Madden (the popular American Football video game is named after him), and Sid Gillman have all had history-defining careers that have set them at the peak of prime NFL coaches to date. One name, however, stands far above these and the many others who have gone down as great. That name is none other than Vince Lombardi, whose name has been made even more famous as it has been given to the coveted NFL championship trophy.
Vince Lombardi was a coach and later an executive in the National Football League (NFL). He is widely recognized as the most significant American Football coach in history and is best known as the head coach of the famed 60s Green Bay Packers squad, who he led to three straight, and five overall NFL Championships in just seven years.
He’s also recognized as one of the greatest leaders in American sports, but who was this man, and what made him so great?
Let’s find out.
Vince Lombardi was born on the 11th of June, 1913, in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn and attended the Cathedral Preparatory Seminary to train to become a priest. His family was Catholic and regularly attended Sunday Mass, so this was a pretty normal route for young Vince to take.
After completing four years at the Cathedral, he decided to pursue another direction and enrolled at St. Francis Preparatory High School in the fall of 1932. Throughout his high school years, he would play football outside of his school curriculum. When it was time to go to university, he was awarded a football scholarship to Fordham University.
Lombardi had a somewhat successful football tenure at Fordham, and he went on to graduate from the university on the 16th of June, 1937. Fast forward two years to 1939 and Lombardi was offered an assistant coaching position at St. Cecilia High School by his former Fordham teammate Andy Palau. He also taught Latin, chemistry, and physics during his time with St. Cecilia’s.
Lombardi was promoted to head coach of the high school team in 1942, and the following year St. Cecilia was recognized as the top high school football team in America. He enjoyed a successful coaching spell at the school, and in 1947 he accepted the coaching position of the football and basketball freshman teams at his alma mater, Fordham University. The next year he was promoted to assistant coach of the varsity football team.
The Big Leagues
After the 1948 season, he took an assistant coaching job at the U.S Military Academy at West Point, where his future coaching philosophy and system were truly developed and formed. After a tumultuous but enormously formative time at West Point, Lombardi accepted the Offensive Coordinator role at the famed New York Giants franchise. He was 41 years old at this time, and his NFL coaching career had just begun.
By his third year with the team, with the help of fellow coaching legend Tom Landry, Lombardi managed to turn the Giants into a championship team to win the League Title in 1956. After a few years of searching for bigger and more significant roles, Lombardi finally managed to secure the head coaching role as well as the general manager position of the flailing Green Bay Packers in 1959.
At the time Lombardi took over, the Packers organization was in ruins, and the fans and community were enraged and despondent. It felt like there was little hope for a successful season. That hope was immediately lifted in Lombardi’s first season with his new team as they improved to a 7-5 record, and rookie coach Lombardi was awarded the Coach of the Year.
In his second season with the Packers, Lombardi led the team to the NFL Western Conference title for the first time since 1944. They were to be defeated at the 1960 Championship Game but would return to claim the 1961 and 1962 NFL Championships. He would continue with the team and go on to lead them to three more championships in 1965, 1966, and 1967, the last two being the league’s first Super Bowls.
As a strong advocate of civil rights and anti-discrimination in general, Vince Lombardi impacted the game of football in more ways than one. He will forever be remembered as one of the great champions of human rights and possibly the hardest, greatest coach in the history of the sport.
He passed away due to cancer complications on the 3rd of September, 1970, at the age of 57. He changed the culture of the game both on and off the field and will forever be engraved on the hearts of the Green Bay community.