Rick Carpiniello: Before Packers, Vince Lombardi made it big in New York

Rick Carpiniello: Before Packers, Vince Lombardi made it big in New York


Rick Carpiniello: Before Packers, Vince Lombardi made it big in New York


Father Lombardi.

Imagine how much different it all might have been. The Super Bowl trophy would have a different name inscribed on it, and so much NFL history would have taken other paths, had Vince Lombardi held on to his initial goal in life — to become a priest.

Instead, Lombardi gave up his quest as a young man and took up football. Lombardi won five NFL championships in his short life, including the first two Super Bowls.

The name on the trophy, which will be awarded Sunday night in the New York metropolitan area for the first time, has deep roots in this area.

Lombardi, the son of an Italian immigrant, was born June 11, 1913, in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn. As a teenager, Lombardi enrolled at Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception to study for the priesthood. Within two years, Lombardi opted for another direction. He transferred to St. Francis Prep, where he quickly became a star fullback on the football team.

The rest is history. Lombardi went on to Fordham, where he played from 1934-36 as part of the second version of the fabled “Seven Blocks of Granite” offensive line. The head coach was “Sleepy” Jim Crowley, one of the fabled “Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.”

A few years later, after playing semipro football, he started coaching, first at St. Cecilia High in Englewood, N.J., then at Fordham, then at Army under Earl “Red” Blaik. In 1954, he was hired by new Giants head coach Jim Lee Howell, along with another assistant named Tom Landry. That group led the Giants to the 1956 NFL title.

Lombardi, though, wanted to be a head coach. He perceived an anti-Italian-American bias, according to “Lombardi and Landry: How Two of Football’s Greatest Coaches Launched Their Legends and Changed the Game Forever” (Skyhorse), written by former longtime Journal News football reporter Ernie Palladino.

Lombardi would have to leave the New York-New Jersey area for that shot. In 1959 he headed to Green Bay, where the Packers had gone 1-10-1 in ’58. With Lombardi as coach and general manager, the Packers went on to win five NFL championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.

His motivational teachings and credos became immortalized on plaques and tablets in sports locker rooms and corporate boardrooms.

Though it is widely believed he did, Lombardi claimed to have never actually said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” Palladino says in his book.

Instead, this religious man read verse from St. Paul to the Corinthians: “Run to win … run in such a way so I am not aimless … run in such a way as to get the prize.”

Lombardi said, to paraphrase, “that winning isn’t everything, but making the fullest effort to win is.”

“His philosophies were based on the ancient Greeks,” All-Pro Packers guard Jerry Kramer told a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last summer. “Aristotle said something like, ‘We are what we repeatedly do.’ Coach said, ‘You don’t do things right once in a while. You do them right all the time.’ Plato said, ‘There is no winning without pain.’ Coach said, ‘There’s a price to pay for success.’

“All those things are virtually inarguable. I think they worked 5,000 years ago, and I honestly believe they will work 5,000 years from now.”

Lombardi’s two Super Bowls were known simply as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The moniker “Super Bowl” became official in 1969, the third edition, in which the AFL-NFL merger was hastened by the Jets’ shocking upset of the Baltimore Colts.

The second of Lombardi’s AFL-NFL championships followed the epic Ice Bowl victory over Landry’s Dallas Cowboys on the “frozen tundra” of Lambeau Field. The 1968 Super Bowl was his final game as Packers coach.

He retired as coach but stayed on as GM for one season. Bored, he became coach and GM of the Washington Redskins for one season, before being diagnosed with colon cancer. Lombardi died 10 weeks later, on Sept. 3, 1970, at age 57.

NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle immediately renamed the sterling silver Super Bowl trophy for Lombardi, and the Baltimore Colts, winners of Super Bowl V in 1971, became the first of many to receive the “Vince Lombardi Trophy.” He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame later that year.

On Sunday, the trophy will be awarded in Lombardi’s backyard. The coach will surely be wearing a gap-toothed smile.


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