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Green Bay Packers Legend of the Past: Vince Lombardi (Part I)

July 25th, 2013 at 12:27 PM
By Sean Tehan

Vince Lombardi. The name is plastered on the Super Bowl trophy, and the name alone grabs the attention of NFL brass. Lombardi, the former Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame head coach, is one of the few iconic names which continues to echo throughout the NFL atmosphere.  A catholic by nature and a family man at heart, Lombardi not only taught his players how to become great—he paved the path on how to act as a true professional in football and in life. Before the glory though, life was tough for Lombardi.

Born on June 11, 1913 in Brooklyn, NY, Lombardi’s family emigrated from Italy to the United States before Vince’s birth. From the time where Vince was a young boy, the Lombardi family had to handle a great deal of racism displayed towards them by others.

Despite the prejudice, the Lombardi attended church every Sunday. Vince, who was bottled up with anger and rage from an early age, also had developed a quick temper. In hopes of relieving these behaviors, Lombardi wanted to pursue becoming a Catholic priest. After high school though, Lombardi decided to no longer pursue priesthood, and chose to attend and play football at Fordham University in the Bronx.

An undersized player from the start (5’8", 180), Lombardi’s aggressive nature and heart earned him an eventual starting spot on Fordham’s offensive line later in his collegiate career. As a senior, Lombardi played right guard in Fordham’s famous “Seven Blocks of Granite” offensive line unit.

During Lombardi’s senior season, Fordham possessed a 5-0-2 record before losing in the season finale against New York University (NYU), 7-6. Fordham lost their chance to play in the Rose Bowl, and Lombardi learned a lesson through the adversity—never take your opponent for granted.

After graduating from Fordham, Lombardi lost his passion and drive in life. Lombardi’s family was part of the Great Depression of the mid 1930’s, he had forgone priesthood, and lacked ambition.

In 1939, Lombardi took a job in Englewood, New Jersey in hopes of getting married within the next year. Lombardi joined the football coaching staff at St. Cecilia High School, while also teaching Latin, chemistry, and physics. Despite making little money as a coach and teacher, Lombardi proved to make one of the greatest decisions of his young life.

By 1942, Lombardi was promoted to head coach at St. Cecilia, and in 1943, his team caught national attention after beating Brooklyn Prep. Regarded as one of the top teams on the eastern seaboard, Brooklyn Prep, led by star player and future college football coaching legend Joe Paterno, was stunned by Lombardi’s St. Cecilia High bunch. St. Cecilia High School was rated the top high school team in the nation.

Lombardi coached at St. Cecilia for the next three years before returning to Fordham University. In 1947, Lombardi was Fordham University head freshman and junior varsity football coach. In 1948, Lombardi was an assistant on the Fordham varsity staff.

In 1949, Lombardi became an assistant coach at West Point Military Academy (Army) at West Point, NY. Under the tutelage of head coach Earl Blaik, Lombardi’s coaching style was developed. Lombardi combined his spiritual discipline with Blaik’s military discipline, establishing his trademark of proper execution.

In 1953, Army’s football team lost 43 of their 45 varsity players because of the infamous cheating scandal within the Military Academy. Blaik could’ve easily bolted after losing over 90 percent of his players. Instead, Blaik stayed in West Point—Lombardi learned the importance of perseverance at its finest.

After five years at West Point, Lombardi was hired as an assistant coach for the New York Giants in 1954. Lombardi, who was the Giants’ offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, was credited with introducing “rule blocking” in the NFL. With rule blocking, offensive would guard an “area” instead of a “man." The running back was responsible for finding the open area, and in Lombardi’s famous words “run to daylight."

Later on as a head coach in Green Bay, Lombardi developed the “Power Sweep," where both offensive guards would pull to an area, block the first man in that area, and Hall of Fame running backs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor would “run to daylight”.  

Before Lombardi’s opportunity in Green Bay had even come along, he was regarded as one of the rising assistant coaches in the league according to New York Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell. Lombardi arguably though wasn’t even regarded as the top assistant on the Giants coaching staff, and wasn’t a top head coaching candidate in most NFL front offices.

Please continue reading the remainder of this article in ”Green Bay Packers Legend of the Past: Vince Lombardi (Part II)”, coming out later today.

Tags: Army, Earl Blaik, Football, Fordham, Green Bay, Green Bay Packers, Jim Lee Howell, Jim Taylor, New York Giants, NFL, Paul Hornung, Super Bowl, Vince Lombardi

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