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Nearly four decades after his death, Vince Lombardi remains one of the most recognizable sports figures of all time.
His name graces the Super Bowl trophy. His likeness can be seen in a 14-foot statue at Lambeau Field. A flamboyant figure, his name remains attached to some of the most famous quotes in American sports history.
In his career as head coach in Green Bay, Lombardi steered the Packers to five NFL Championships and victories in Super Bowls I and II. He tallied a career record of 105-35-6 (regular and postseason combined), 98-30-4 in Green Bay.
And yet, Lombardi's name wasn't always so recognizable.
In early 1959, Green Bay was coming off a 1-10-1 season -- the worst in team history. Winners of six NFL titles under Curly Lambeau, the team hadn't had a winning season since 1947.
Ray "Scooter" McLean, head coach in 1958, resigned after one season. Searching for McLean's replacement, Dominic Olejniczak -- then the president of the organization -- became interested in a Giants assistant coach.
To that point, Lombardi had never held a head coaching position, so when Olejniczak recommended him to the Packers' executive committee, committee member John Torinus replied, "Who the hell is Vince Lombardi?" It didn't take long to find out.
On Feb. 2, 1959, Lombardi arrived and told the committee, "I want it understood that I am in complete command here." Technically he wasn't, not yet, but within two days of his arrival Olejniczak gave Lombardi not only the head coaching job, but the vacant general manager position as well.
Lombardi immediately changed the way the team looked, the way it played and especially how it thought. In 1959, he ordered that the Packers' uniforms be revamped. The resulting design was almost identical to the uniforms the team continues to wear today. In fact, the only major modification since was the addition of the 'G' helmet logo, which was added in 1961 and has never left. The logo was designed by then-equipment manager Dad Braisher, at Lombardi's request.
Lombardi's offense was basic and methodical. Its most famous play, now often referred to as the "Lombardi sweep" or the "Packers sweep," consisted of Paul Hornung or Jim Taylor following pulling guards Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston. Lombardi was famous for his pursuit of perfection, often dedicating long hours of film study or practice to just one element of one play.
In his first team meeting after being named head coach and general manager, Lombardi made it clear just how determined he was to win. Looking into the eyes of players who just a season before had gone 1-10-1, Lombardi said, "I have never been on a losing team, gentlemen, and I do not intend to start now." True to his word, Lombardi never knew a losing season as a head coach.
His first season was a stunning success. He used many of the same players from that 1-10-1 team of 1958 and finished 7-5 in 1959, winning unanimous Coach of the Year honors. His first game was a 9-6 victory over the Chicago Bears in new City Stadium -- later renamed Lambeau Field -- and when it was over, the players carried their coach off the field in triumph.
In 1960, the Packers won the Western Conference title, going 8-4. That brought Lombardi to his first NFL Championship Game, which the Packers lost 17-13 to the Eagles at Franklin Field.
It didn't take long for Lombardi to earn redemption, however. In 1961, after an 11-3 season, the Packers demolished his former team, the Giants, 37-0, winning the team's first title since 1944.
His teams went on to capture four more NFL crowns: 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967. Green Bay also won the first two Super Bowls after the 1966 and 1967 titles, respectively. In Lombardi's final game as Green Bay head coach, the Packers defeated Oakland 33-14 in Super Bowl II at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
But the Packers' 1967 season isn't remembered for that Super Bowl. Instead, the '67 campaign is remembered for the NFL Championship against Dallas, perhaps the most famous game in football history. Now commonly referred to as the 'Ice Bowl,' the Lambeau Field temperature at kickoff that day (Dec. 31, 1967) was minus-13, with the wind chill dipping to 46-below.
Lombardi had heating coils installed underneath the Lambeau Field turf prior to the season. But on a day when they were dearly needed, the coils malfunctioned or -- some believe -- were intentionally turned off. As a result, the field turned into a sheet of ice.
With 13 seconds left, Bart Starr's 1-yard touchdown plunge gave the Packers a come from-behind 21-17 victory.
Lombardi retired as head coach after the season, but retained his general manager's duties for one more year.
Ul t ima t e l y , Lombardi was bored being "out of action" and in 1969 accepted the head coaching position with the Washington Redskins, a team that hadn't had a winning season in 13 years. In Lombardi's first and only season in Washington, the Redskins went 7-5-2.
Shortly after Lombardi's 1970 death, before Super Bowl V, Commissioner Pete Rozelle made what remains arguably the greatest tribute in league history, naming the Super Bowl championship trophy the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
In August 2003, before the rededication of a renovated Lambeau Field, the Packers unveiled statues of Lombardi and team founder Curly Lambeau in what is now the Robert E. Harlan Plaza outside the Lambeau Field Atrium. Each statue is 14 feet high atop a 4-foot base and 2-foot steps.
Lombardi didn't get his first head coaching job until he was 45 years old. Before coming to the Packers, Lombardi was an assistant coach with the New York Giants. Lombardi also coached at Army. As a player, he was one of the legendary "Seven Blocks of Granite" as a guard at Fordham.
Perhaps the most famous quote commonly attributed to Lombardi wasn't even his own. Legendary actor John Wayne uttered the phrase "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing!" in a 1953 film called Trouble Along the Way. Lombardi may have borrowed that phrase, but many of his other memorable quotes are believed to be his alone.
Vincent Thomas Lombardi, born June 11, 1913, in Brooklyn, N.Y., died of cancer Sept. 3, 1970, at the age of 57.
|1959||Green Bay||7||5||0||.583||3-NFL Western Conference||-|
|1960||Green Bay||8||4||0||.667||1-NFL Western Conference||0-1|
|1961||Green Bay#||11||3||0||.786||1-NFL Western Conference||1-0|
|1962||Green Bay#||13||1||0||.929||1-NFL Western Conference||1-0|
|1963||Green Bay||11||2||1||.846||2-NFL Western Conference||-|
|1964||Green Bay||8||5||1||.615||2-NFL Western Conference||-|
|1965||Green Bay#||10||3||1||.769||1-NFL Western Conference||2-0|
|1966||Green Bay#||12||2||0||.857||1-NFL Western Conference||2-0|
|1967||Green Bay#||9||4||1||.692||1-NFL Central Division||3-0|
|1969||Washington||7||5||2||.583||2-NFL Capitol Division||-|
|NFL Totals||(10 years)||96||34||6||.739||9-1|
|Green Bay||(9 years)||89||29||4||.754||9-1|