Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 9/8/12

Vince Lombardi was an average college football offensive lineman, began his coaching career much later than most, became head coach of the Packers at age 45 and by the strength of his character and discipline that he learned in his experiences, turned the Green Bay Packers into the powerhouse team of the 1960's.

Now that the Wayback Machine is back from the shop after passing its 10,000-year checkup, it's time to head back to the mid-1900's to profile one of the greatest football coaches of all time.

September 3, 1970–Vince Lombardi died of cancer at the age of 57.

Vince Lombardi was born on June 11, 1913 in Brooklyn, New York the oldest of five siblings.

Lombardi’s first taste of football success came in 1933 when he accepted a scholarship to Fordham University as an offensive lineman. Going into his sophomore year the 5 foot, 8” tall, 180 pound Lombardi was named the starting tackle and in his senior season was the right guard, lined up next to eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame center Alex Wojciechowicz on the line famously nicknamed the “Seven Blocks of Granite” (See Dropping Back: Storied Nicknames).

After his graduation from Fordham University in 1937 Lombardi drifted through various jobs without much ambition from semi-pro football to bill collector without finding a direction. In 1938 he enrolled in Fordham Law School but dropped out after one semester.

In 1939, to make enough money to get married he accepted a job as an assistant coach at St. Cecilia high school in Englewood, New Jersey. The head coach, Andy Palau, was a teammate of Lombardi’s at Fordham. When Palau left to become coach at Fordham in 1942, Lombardi took over as head coach of St. Cecilia.

In 1947 left there to become coach of the freshman football and basketball teams at Fordham then progressed to assistant with the varsity in 1948. In 1949 he accepted a position as the offensive line coach under legendary coach Earl “Red” Blaik at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Blaik was a stern disciplinarian whose manner influenced Lombardi’s personality and coaching style as he progressed in his coaching career. After five seasons at Army, in 1954 at the age of 41, he was hired by new New York Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell to be the assistant coach in charge of the offense. To take charge of the defense Howell promoted defensive back Tom Landry as a player/assistant coach.

In their first season together as a coaching staff the Giants improved from the 3-9 record that led to the firing of 23-year head coach Steve Owen, to 7-5 and third place in the Eastern Division. After another third place finish in 1955, the Giants won the Eastern Division with an 8-3-1 record and crushed the Chicago Bears in the NFL Championship Game 47-7.

In 1958, the Giants' 1958 Championship Game overtime loss to the Baltimore Colts, Lombardi was approached to take over as general manager and head coach of the Green Bay Packers. The Packers had not won an NFL Championship since 1944 and had hit rock bottom in the 1958 season with a 1-10-1 record, still the worst season in franchise history.

The irony of the Packers team that season is that roster boasted six future members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Forrest Gregg, Paul Hornung, Ray Nitschke, Jim Ringo, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor and another who should have been in a long time ago, right guard Jerry Kramer. (Are you listening Hall of Fame Veterans Committee?)

On February 2, 1959 Lombardi accepted the job with the Packers and began the process of changing the losing mindset. In his first team meeting he let every player in the room know what to expect starting with, “I have never been on a losing team gentlemen and I do not intend to start now!”

Lombardi worked his new team hard, not just on the skills that applied directly to the football field but mentally as well. He drew on every lesson learned in his time as an assistant with Army and coach Blaik.

The results were immediate. The 1959 Packers finished 7-5 in the Western Division, in a third place tie with the San Francisco 49ers.

In 1960, the Packers won the Western Division for the first time in 16-years with an 8-4 record but lost to the Eagles 17-13 in the NFL Championship Game.

The Packers had a prime opportunity to put the game out of reach early after an interception and fumble recovery when Philadelphia’s first two possessions gave them the ball deep in Eagle’s territory but they could only managed a field goal as a result. For the game the Packers reached the Eagle’s 5, 13, 8 and 7-yard lines but only came away with 6-points from those possessions.

After the game Lombardi said, “When you get down there, come out with something. I lost the game, not my players.” While Lombardi may have lost the game by not taking points when they were available, he won the war.

He had demanded hard work and disciplined habits from his players since becoming the Packers’ head coach. The team saw first-hand that Lombardi wasn’t paying lip service to those traits but also demanded them of himself. Lombardi finished winning the team and never lost another playoff game in his career.

A couple of statistical observations from that game, when looking at the team stats the Packers dominated play during throughout the game. The Packers dominated in first downs and 223 to 99-rushing yards. Norm Van Brocklin managed 19-more passing yards than Bart Starr.

The major separation was in their net passing yards per attempt numbers. The Packers’ run game outgained the Eagles by nearly 2-yards per carry but Starr averaged 5.09-yards per attempt, Van Brocklin averaged 9.85-yards per attempt, nearly a first down every time he dropped back to pass.

The Packer completed their rise back to the top in 1961 when they smashed the Giants 37-0 in the NFL Championship Game and in 1962 when they beat the Giants again, 16-7 for the championship.

In 1963, adversity struck for the Packers when running back Paul Hornung was suspended from football, along with defensive tackle Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions, for betting on NFL games and his associations with suspected gamblers. Hornung and Karras immediately admitted their mistakes but missed the entire season.

On the field, the Packers put together an 11-2-1 season which would normally have earned them another championship game appearance if not for the problem of the two losses being against the Chicago Bears, who won the division with an 11-1-2 record and the championship against the New York Giants.

Pete Rozelle lifted the suspensions for Hornung for the 1964 seasson and he returned to the team but Packers fell short again before coming back in 1965 with a 10-3-1 record and a 23-12 victory in the NFL Championship Game against the Cleveland Browns.

In 1966 and 1967, the Packers played in what may be the two greatest back-to-back championship games in NFL history when they battled Tom Landry’s Cowboys.

Lombardi joined the Packers and implemented his revolutionary “run to daylight” offense in 1959. Tom Landry landed his first, and only, head coaching job the following season with the expansion Dallas Cowboys, bringing his own, equally innovative ideas to the defensive side of the ball.

Lombardi had changed the emphasis from strict blocking assignments and a back attacking a pre-determined hole in the defensive line to a system where the line received blocking assignments from the center based on the defensive configuration with the back attacking the first hole (daylight) that developed in front of him.

The “run to daylight” philosophy served as the principle behind the famous “Packer Power Sweep”. The sweep took advantage of Jim Ringo’s intelligence at center, the quickness and blocking ability of guards Fuzzy Thurston and Jerry Kramer and the devastating blocking of fullback Jim Taylor.

Paul Hornung would break to his right, take the hand-off from Bart Starr and attack one of two areas of the defense, either off the tackle, sealed off by Taylor or outside the line of scrimmage, sealed by Thurston and Kramer. (This is a must see, Vince Lombardi himself demonstrating in detail the options that could be run with this play).

An added benefit to the sweep was its use as a dangerous weapon in the Packers’ passing attack. If Starr noticed the linebacker and safety beginning to cheat towards the right side to counter the sweep he could run play-action with Hornung and hit receiver Boyd Dowler, who would run his route through the vacated safety position.

As a counter to Lombardi’s “run to daylight” philosophy, Landry developed the flex defense. Landry had already served as one of the main innovators of the 4-3 defense (opinions vary on who was the first to introduce it). Instead of the standard five down linemen on the line of scrimmage Landry stood up Sam Huff and moved him back from the line which created the middle linebacker position.

To block out the daylight from Lombardi’s scheme defensive ends were moved back a yard from the line of scrimmage with either one or both lined up outside the tackle to make him more difficult to seal off the play. Each defender was responsible for a gap area and told to stay in position until it became known which way the play would develop, essentially becoming a zone defense against the run.

It’s not completely certain but there are sources who believe that the reason Landry revived and refined the man-in-motion offense to counter his flex defense but that will have to be the subject of a separate article.

In 1966, the Cowboys put together their first winning season in franchise history, won the Eastern Division and faced the Packers in the championship. The difference between the 1966 NFL Championship game and other years was that the winner would have one more game to play, the AFL-NFL World Championship Game (or Super Bowl I).

The Packers went in favored by a touchdown and took an early 14-0 lead but the Cowboys came right back to tie the game at 14 by the end of the first quarter. A Bart Starr touchdown pass gave the Packers the lead and the teams went to halftime with the Packers leading 21-17.

Dallas cut the lead to 21-20 before both teams exchanged touchdown passes to make the score 34-27 when the Cowboys began their final drive.

A pass interference penalty gave them 1st and goal on the 2-yard line. After three plays they were still there when Meredith rolled out on 4th down but receiver Bob Hayes was well defended and Green Bay’s Tom Brown intercepted to seal the win.

In that first Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs the Packers were not only expected to win, the entire NFL expected them to win big and teach the upstart AFL a lesson.

Lombardi had only one answer for whenever he was asked why the Packers would win, “We have tradition and they don’t,” he said. “We have something going for us that goes back a lot further than one game or one season. We must sustain this and every man on the team feels the same way.” The Packers went out and delivered a convincing victory against the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.

In the 1967 NFL Championship Game the two teams matched up again, this time in Green Bay to play the game famously known as the “Ice Bowl.” An expected cold front moved in quicker than expected and on the morning of the game temperatures had dipped to -13 degrees with wind chills in the -30’s.

With the Cowboys leading 17-14 the Packers drove from their own 32-yard line to the Cowboy’s one. On 3rd and 1 with 16 seconds left, Starr called timeout and went to the sidelines to discuss the situation with Lombardi. Neither gave a thought to kicking a game tying field goal, they wanted no part of an overtime period.

In the huddle Starr had asked Jerry Kramer if he felt he could get good enough footing to run a wedge play. Kramer didn’t hesitate, answering yes. Starr told this to Lombardi who waved him back to the field saying, “Run it and let’s get the hell out of here.” Starr took the snap and Kramer moved Jethro Pugh backwards. Instead of handing off though, Starr dove in himself for the game winning touchdown.

In the locker room Jerry Kramer, taken from his book Instant Replay, told interviewers "Many things have been said about Coach (Lombardi). And he is not always understood by those who quote him. The players understand. This is one beautiful man."

As the anti-climax to the game, the Packers travelled to Miami and whipped the Oakland Raiders 33-14 for their second consecutive Super Bowl victory.

In the offseason, Lombardi stepped down as the Packers’ head coach in favor of Phil Bengtson to become the full time general manager but wasn’t happy not being on the sidelines. The night before Super Bowl III, Lombardi met with Edward Bennett Williams of the Redskins, who offered him a position as head coach and a chance to be a team shareholder.

Lombardi went back to work to improve the 5-9 team. He worked with quarterback Sonny Jurgensen  to get into the best game shape he had ever been in. At linebacker, he coaxed Sam Huff out of retirement and drafted running back Larry Brown.

With Lombardi as head coach and the foundation for building a team in place the Redskins finished 7-5-2, their first winning record since 1955.

On June 24, 1970, after complaining of stomach problems, Lombardi was admitted to Georgetown University Hospital and found to have a very aggressive colon cancer. Exploratory surgery showed nothing could be done, the cancer was terminal. Vince Lombardi died on September 3, 1970 at the age of 57.

Lombardi was the recipient of an number of honors in recognition of his personality and career accomplishments. In May of 1967 he received the Insignis Medal, Fordham’s highest honor, for recognition of his greatness as a teacher. He was also inducted into Fordham’s athletic Hall of Fame in 1971.

In 1968, Highland Avenue, the street running northwest past Lambeau Field was renamed Lombardi Avenue. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Super Bowl Trophy was renamed the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The trophy was presented the first time under this name to the Baltimore Colts after Super Bowl V.

Lombardi was inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame in 1975 and was part of the first class inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame (where he grew up and began coaching) in 2008.

“Character,” Lombardi once said, “is just another word for having a perfectly disciplined and educated will. A person can make his own character by blending these elements with an intense desire to achieve excellence. Everyone is different in what I will call magnitude, but the capacity to achieve character is still the same.”

For a man who began his adult life with no direction and uncertain goals to becoming one of the greatest figures in NFL history he should know about character. His life defines the word.

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Events This Week:

September 3, 1995–The Expansion Carolina Panthers lose their 1st NFL game to Atlanta 23-20 in overtime.

September 3, 1995–Jacksonville Jaguars lose their 1st NFL game to the Houston Oilers 10-3.

September 4, 1966–Houston Oilers holds Denver Broncos to no 1st downs winning 45-7

September 4, 1988–The Phoenix Cardinals play their first NFL game after moving from St. Louis, a 21-14 loss to the Bengals.

September 5, 1994 –Jerry Rice of the San Francisco 49ers catches his NFL record 127th touchdown pass.

September 9, 1960–The American Football League plays its first game; the Broncos beat the Patriots 13-10.


Notable Birthdays This Week:

September 7, 1908 – Paul Brown; Founder and head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 1946 to 1962; Founder of the Cincinnati Bengals and head coach from 1968 to 1975; Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.

(See Dropping Back In NFL History: AFL Party Crashers for the story of Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals).

September 8, 1945–Lem Barney; Cornerback (Lions) 1967–1977; 2-time First-Team All-Pro; 7-time Pro Bowler; Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992

September 8, 1946–L.C. Greenwood; Defensive End (Steelers) 1969–1981; 2-time First-Team All-Pro; 6-time Pro Bowler; Hall of Fame Finalist in 1991, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2005, 2006


The Rest of This Week’s Birthdays:

September 3

1896–Scotty Bierce; End (Akron Pros/Buffalo All-Americans/Cleveland Bulldogs) 1920–1925

Head Coach (Akron Pros) 1925; 4-2-2 Lifetime Record

1923–Ed Sprinkle; Defensive End (Bears) 1944–1955; 4-time Pro Bowler

1930–Tom Scott; Defensive End/Linebacker (Eagles/Giants) 1953–1964; 2-time Pro Bowler

1931–Larry Strickland; Center (Bears) 1954–1959; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 1-time Pro Bowler

1941–Dave Herman; Right Guard (Jets) 1964–1973; 2-time Pro Bowler

1941–Jim Dunaway; Defensive Tackle (Bills/Dolphins) 1963–1972; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 4-time Pro Bowler

1942–Bob Young; Defensive End/Guard (Broncos/Oilers/Cardinals/Saints) 1966–1981; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 2-time Pro Bowler

1960–Brad Edelman; Guard (Saints) 1982–1989; 1-time Pro Bowler

1962–Rich Miano; Defensive Back (Jets/Eagles/Falcons) 1985–1995

1964–Ernest Givins; Wide Receiver (Oilers/Jaguars) 1986–1995; 2-time Pro Bowler

1966–Bennie Blades; Safety (Lions/Seahawks) 1988–1997; 1-time Pro Bowler

1974–Renaldo Wynn; Def End/Def Tackle (Jaguars/Redskins/Saints/Giants) 1997–2009

1976–Jevon Kearse; Defensive End (Titans/Eagles) 1999–2009; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 3-time Pro Bowler

1977–Casey Hampton; Nose Tackle (Steelers) 2001–2011; 5-time Pro Bowler

1978–Charles Grant; Defensive End (Saints) 2002–2009

1984–Mason Crosby; Placekicker (Packers) 2007–2011

1987–Brandon Spikes; Linebacker (Patriots) 2010–2011


September 4

1970–Torrance Small; Wide Receiver (Saints/Rams/Colts/Eagles/Patriots) 1992–2001

1972–Jason Fisk; Defensive Tackle (Vikings/Titans/Chargers/Browns/Rams) 1995–2006

1978–Terence Newman; Defensive Back (Cowboys) 2003–2011; 2-time Pro Bowler

1981–Isaac Sopoaga; Nose Tackle/Defensive End (49ers) 2005–2011

1985–Brandon Myers; Tight End (Raiders) 2009–2011


September 5

1923–Warren Lahr; Defensive Back (Browns) 1949–1959; 1-time Pro Bowler

1928–Duane Putnam; Guard (Rams/Cowboys/Browns) 1952–1962; 3-time First-Team All-Pro; 5-time Pro Bowler

1934–Don Chandler; Placekicker/Punter (Giants/Packers 1956–1967; 1-time Pro Bowler

1937–Charley Tolar; Fullback (Oilers) 1960–1966; 2-time Pro Bowler

1939–Billy Kilmer; Quarterback (49ers/Saints/Redskins) 1961–1978; 1-time Pro Bowler

1946–Jerry LeVias; Wide Receiver/Kick & Punt Returner (Oilers/Chargers) 1969–1974; 1-time Pro Bowler

1952–Steve Odom; Kick Returner/Wide Receiver (Packers/Giants) 1974–1979; 1-time Pro Bowler

1960–Willie Gault; Wide Receiver   (Bears/Raiders) 1983–1993             

1965–Tony Martin; Wide Receiver (Dolphins/Chargers/Falcons) 1990–2001; 1-time Pro Bowler

1970–Brad Hopkins; Tackle (Oilers/Titans) 1993–2005; 2-time Pro Bowler

1977–Rosevelt Colvin; Linebacker (Bears/Patriots) 1999–2008

1978–Leonard Davis; Tackle/Guard (Cardinals/Cowboys) 2001–2011; 3-time Pro Bowler

1987–Colt McCoy; Quarterback (Browns) 2010–2011


September 6

1917–Al Baisi; Guard (Bears/Eagles) 1940–1947; 2-time Pro Bowler

1940–Tom Janik; Defensive Back/Punter (Broncos/Bills/Patriots) 1963–1971; 2-time Pro Bowler

1959–Kani Kauahi; Center (Seahawks/Packers/Cardinals/Chiefs) 1982–1993

1962–Brian Noble; Linebacker (Packers) 1985–1993

1974–Chad Scott; Cornerback (Steelers/Patriots) 1997–2006

1974–Travis Kirschke; Def End/Def Tackle (Lions/49ers/Steelers) 1997–2009

1976–Brendon Ayanbadejo; Linebacker (Dolphins/Bears/Ravens) 2003–2011; 3-time Pro Bowler

1985–Robert Ayers; Defensive End (Broncos) 2009–2011

1986–Richard Quinn; Tight End (Broncos/Redskins) 2009–2011

1986–Ryan Clady; Tackle (Broncos) 2008–2011; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 1-time Pro Bowler

1987–Vincent Rey; Linebacker (Bengals) 2010–2011

1988–Sam Acho; Linebacker (Cardinals) 2011–2011


September 7

1926–Tom Keane; Safety (Rams/Colts/Cardinals) 1948–1955; 1-time First-Team All-Pro;1-time Pro Bowler

1932–Dick Bielski; Right End/Tight End (Eagles/Cowboys/Colts) 1955–1963; 1-time Pro Bowler

1934–Tom Tracy; Half Back (Lions/Steelers/Redskins) 1956–1964; 2-time Pro Bowler

1939–Chuck Allen; Linebacker (Chargers/Steelers/Eagles) 1961–1972; 2-time Pro Bowler

1944–Forrest Blue; Center (49ers/Colts) 1968–1978; 2-time First-Team All-Pro; 4-time Pro Bowler

1945–Rocky Freitas; Tackle (Lions/Buccaneers) 1968–1978; 1-time Pro Bowler

1948–John Brockington; Running Back (Packers/Chiefs) 1971–1977; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 3-time Pro Bowler

1949–Jim Osborne; Defensive Tackle (Bears) 1972–1984

1951–Bert Jones; Quarterback (Colts/Rams) 1973–1982; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 1-time Pro Bowler

1965–Bruce Armstrong; Left Tackle (Patriots) 1987–2000; 6-time Pro Bowler

1968–Erik Williams; Tackle (Cowboys/Ravens) 1991–2001; 2-time First-Team All-Pro; 4-time Pro Bowler

1972–Jeff Hartings; Guard/Center (Lions/Steelers) 1996–2006; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 2-time Pro Bowler

1980–Derrick Dockery; Guard (Redskins/Bills/Redskins/Cowboys) 2003–2011

1982–James Butler; Safety (Giants/Rams) 2005–2011

1986–Troy Nolan; Safety (Texans) 2010–2011

1987–Patrick Robinson; Cornerback (Saints) 2010–2011

1987–Mistral Raymond; Defensive Back (Vikings) 2011–2011


September 8

1963–Gerald Williams; Nose Tackle/Defensive End (Steelers/Panthers) 1986–1997

1974–Amani Toomer; Wide Receiver (Giants) 1996–2008

1975–Deshea Townsend; Defensive Back (Steelers/Colts) 1998–2010

1981–Malcom Floyd; Wide Receiver (Chargers) 2004–2011

1982–Travis Daniels; Defensive Back (Dolphins/Browns/Chiefs) 2005–2011

1987–Maurice Hurt; Guard (Redskins) 2011–2011

1988–Arrelious Benn; Wide Receiver (Buccaneers)  2010–2011


September 9

1911–Conway Baker; Guard/Tackle/Punter/Placekicker/Return Man (Cardinals) 1936–1945

1915–Jim Poole; End (Giants/Cardinals) 1937–1946; 2-time First-Team All-Pro; 3-time Pro Bowler

1930–Jerry Smith; Guard (49ers/Packers) 1952–1956

 Head Coach (Broncos) 1971; Lifetime Record 2-3-0

1936–John Nisby; Guard  (Steelers/Redskins) 1957–1964; 3-time Pro Bowler

1937–Dick LeBeau; Defensive Back (Lions) 1959–1972; 3-time Pro Bowler; Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2010

1938–Johnny Robinson; Safety (Chiefs) 1960–1971; 6-time First-Team All-Pro; 7-time Pro Bowler

1939–Ron McDole; Defensive End (Cardinals/Oilers/Bills/Redskins) 1961–1978; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 2-time Pro Bowler

1949–Joe Theismann; Quarterback (Redskins) 1974–1985; 1-time First-Team All-Pro; 2-time Pro Bowler

1949–Mark Arneson; Linebacker (Cardinals) 1972–1980

1962–Derek Kennard; Center/Guard (Cardinals/Saints/Cowboys) 1986–1996

1982–John Kuhn; Fullback (Steelers/Packers) 2006–2011; 1-time Pro Bowler

1983–Leonard Pope; Tight End (Cardinals/Chiefs) 2006–2011             

1984–Clint Session; Linebacker (Colts/Jaguars) 2007–2011

1985–Matt Slater; Wide Receiver (Patriots) 2008–2011; 1-time Pro Bowler

1985–King Dunlap; Tackle (Eagles) 2009–2011

1987–Riley Cooper; Wide Receiver (Eagles) 2010–2011


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