Vincent Thomas Lombardi is arguably the greatest football coach of all time. His ability to teach, motivate and inspire players helped turn the Green Bay Packers into the most dominating NFL team in the 1960s. The National Football League's Super Bowl trophy is named in his honor. He never had a losing season as a head coach in the NFL, compiling an impressive regular season winning percentage of 73.8% (96-34-6), a preseason winning percentage of 78.6% (44-12), and 90% (9-1) in the postseason for an overall record of 149 wins, 47 losses, and 6 ties in the NFL.
The oldest of five children, Vince Lombardi was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 11 1913. Vincent’s father, Enrico "Harry" Lombardi, was the son of Vincenzo and Michelina Lombardi who emigrated from Salerno. Vincent’s mother, Matilda "Mattie" Izzo, was the daughter of Anthony and Loretta Izzo. Harry and Mattie got married and had five children: Vince, Madeleine, Harold, Claire, and Joe.
The entire Lombardi and Izzo families settled in Sheepshead Bay where Mattie's father had a barber shop. At about the time of Vince's birth, his father Harry and his father’s brother Eddie opened a butcher shop in the Meatpacking District. Throughout the Great Depression, Harry's shop did well and his family prospered but outside of their local neighborhood the Lombardi children were subject to the racism that existed at the time against Italian immigrants.
As a child, Lombardi helped his father at his meat cutting business but soon grew to hate it. At the age of 12 he started playing in an uncoached, Sheepshead Bay, organized football league. In 1928, at the age of 15, he entered the Cathedral College of Immaculate Conception to study for the priesthood. Deciding on a different career path two years later, Lombardi transferred to St. Francis Preparatory and starred as fullback on the football team.
Upon graduation, Lombardi attended Fordham University and starred on the football team, where he was a member of Fordham’s famed “Seven Blocks of Granite”. After graduating magna cum laude from Fordham in 1937, Lombardi attended law school in the evenings while working for a finance company during the day.
Lombardi once again shifted gears, deciding to take a teaching and assistant football coaching position at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, New Jersey. Before St. Cecilia, Lombardi met and fell in love with Marie Planitz. When Marie announced her desire to marry him, her father told her that he did not want his daughter marrying an Italian, a prejudice against his heritage he would face more than once in his life. Lombardi and Marie wed, nonetheless, on August 31, 1940 and had two children, Vince Jr. and Susan.
Lombardi joined the coaching staff at his alma mater, Fordham University, in 1947 and enjoyed a two-year run there. But Lombardi couldn’t resist the opportunity to continue his coaching career at West Point in 1949, while learning under the direction of the great Red Blaik. It was during this time as an assistant to Blaik that Lombardi identified and developed what became the hallmark of his great teams……simplicity and execution.
He developed a reputation for being a tireless workaholic, a trait that helped Lombardi land a position as assistant coach in the NFL for the New York Giants. During his five years with the Giants, Lombardi helped lead the Giants to five winning seasons, culminating with the league championship in 1956.
Lombardi became a hot commodity in the coaching arena, accepted the head coaching position and signed a five-year contract with the Green Bay Packers in January 1959. From the outset, Lombardi established himself as a coach firmly in charge. He conducted grueling training camps and demanded absolute dedication and effort from his players. His hard-edged style turned the Packers into the most envied and successful franchise in the 1960’s, leading them to five NFL Championships, including victories in Super Bowl I and II, and solidified Lombardi’s status as the greatest football coach in history.
After a two year break from coaching, Lombardi returned to lead the Washington Redskins in 1969, promptly leading them to their first winning season in more than a decade.
Tragedy struck as Lombardi was diagnosed with an aggressive form of colon cancer in June 1970, and died a short ten weeks later on September 3, 1970 at the age of 57.
A beloved national icon, thousands of people attended two separate funerals. Shortly after his death, Lombardi was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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