Unlike most people’s sporting heroes, I didn’t grow up idolising Vince Lombardi. I didn’t have Lombardi posters and I didn’t shout his quotes to my peers on the playground. The different time-zones and a desire to consume everything our own national game had to offer meant the wonders of the NFL even passed me by until my late teens.
Another writer on this series said it would be unfair to write about someone who existed before their time. Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment, Lombardi’s legacy still carries as much resonance today as it did back when he was a coach.
In the same way that a teenager may list Led Zeppelin or The Beatles as their favourite band despite living several eras later, I can truly appreciate the genius of Vince Lombardi.
In his time as head coach of the Green Bay Packers (1959 -1967), Lombardi won five NFL Championships, the first two Super Bowls and recorded a post-season record of nine wins and one loss. In nine seasons he never had a losing season. He then went to Washington and posted the Redskins’ first winning season for 14 years. But Lombardi was much more than just honours.
“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilisation work”
Lombardi’s ethos was simple. Hard work, determination and a will to win were the keys to victory. He expected the same level of commitment out of every man he coached no matter how talented they were. His most admirable quality? Getting exactly that from each of his men.
Lombardi knew the importance of treating each individual differently and yet at the same time getting those men to function together as a team.
“Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere”
His legacy extends far beyond football. Some see sport as a silly thing, just a series of games played for one’s amusement. But not only does it have incredible power to bring together nations and cultures, it also teaches us very important lessons which apply to everyday life. Nobody has and maybe never will realise the similarities quite like Lombardi.
“Football is like life – it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority”
It’s a particularly poignant time to write about Lombardi, just after his Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl. The trophy they lifted is named after him, perhaps the greatest honour bestowed on him.
It is rare for one man to become so synonymous with such a major team sport, especially when that man plied his trade as a coach rather than a player. Some feel that Lombardi has become an ‘idea’ and that people have lost sight of the fact he was simply a football coach. But I regularly flick through Lombardi’s quotes and find myself agreeing with everything he says about the differences between success and failure. They still apply today, not just in sport but in society too.
There are many of Lombardi’s own quotes that I could have opted for to summarise just what the great man stood for, but instead I think this one encompasses everything Lombardi represented and everything he continues to represent:
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“Lombardi was more than a football coach; he was a man who set an example of how to live.”
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