Lombardi’s greatness would endure today

Legendary coach’s 100th birthday a milestone worth remembering
Vincent Thomas Lombardi would have celebrated his 100th birthday on Tuesday. Both the milestone and the NFL’s greatest head coach are worth remembering for many reasons.
Foremost, all things Lombardi are synonymous with success.
There are the 1960’s Green Bay Packers teams that became a dynasty. There is the NFL as it grew to become this country’s national pastime. There is the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s that shared Lombardi’s belief that regardless of race, creed or color all people are created equal.
Perhaps the most enduring legacy is the one that exists inside his players. To this day, and to a man, everyone from Willie Wood and Willie Davis to Herb Adderley and Jerry Kramer espouses his virtues.
“There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of the great coach,” Davis said. “He is with me – he is with us – all the time.”
ESPN’s three-hour documentary, “Lombardi’s Legacy,” that continues to air this week illustrates the seemingly simple approach from such a complex man.
His philosophies were basic. His execution was genius.
He was one of the great leaders of the 20th century.
The question occasionally arises, “How would Lombardi do in today’s NFL?” The answer should be self-evident.
Hard work, maximum effort, consistency and attention to detail never go out of style. Treating players with respect, rather than an attitude of “What can he do for me?” never grows old. Learning from past mistakes, rather than being doomed to repeat them, is eternally wise.
Lombardi also had the gift of being able to recognize talent, coupled with the insight to put his players in the best chance to be successful. What Lombardi did with a minimal staffing today requires an army of assistant coaches and scouts.
He looked at Willie Davis, the struggling offensive tackle in Cleveland, and saw a Hall of Fame defensive end. He watched Herb Adderley as a game-breaking running back at Michigan State, and determined he would be a phenomenal defensive back. He studied Willie Wood, a talented college quarterback, and helped him became a great safety.
All of them became Hall of Fame players. All owe a debt to the coach.
Lombardi won five championships in nine seasons in Green Bay.
It wasn’t a fluke. He knew himself, and he knew men, and he realized early on that you only get what you demand.
Lombardi, who was born June 11, 1913, knew what it was like to experience prejudice. As a dark-skinned Italian growing up in New York he knew firsthand the evil that lurks inside some men. As a good but not great athlete he knew that his mind could overcome most shortcomings.
As a man of faith who was burdened by passion that occasionally boiled over into volatility, he knew the condition of human frailty.
Lombardi did his best to practice what he preached. I have often thought that Lombardi’s strict Catholic upbringing and Jesuit education built the foundation for the coach that he would become. His ritual of attending daily Mass wasn’t born out of any thought that he was pious. Instead, it was born out of a belief that he was a sinner striving to be better.
That humble truth, wrapped in an intelligent, dynamic and explosive persona, led him to become a tremendous leader.
He compiled a win-loss record of 98-30-4 (including playoffs) during his nine seasons in Green Bay. He never had a losing season.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Packer Hall of Fame in 1975. Shortly after his death Sept. 3, 1970, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle renamed the Super Bowl trophy the “Vince Lombardi Trophy” in his memory.
Could Lombardi coach today’s NFL players and be successful?
The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.