In Memory Of My Brother
I would like to dedicate my closing article of the year to my brother, Leonard, who passed away during 2002. He was 15 years my senior. He, too, was a sports junkie, and in his younger years was an outstanding fast-pitch softball pitcher. He was a very respected family man and businessman, and I loved him very much.
Story of the Week
He was the professional football coach who symbolized toughness and dedication in sports. "Winning isnít everything. Itís the only thing." That is what you think of when you think of Vince Lombardi.
Lombardi was always a hard man when it came to football. In college, at Fordham, he played guard on a famous line called the Seven Blocks of Granite. He was the smallest of the group at 5-8 and 175 pounds, but he hit like 250. After years of coaching at the high school level, and assistant coaching at the college level, he joined Earl Blaikís staff at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Life at West Point suited Lombardi. He was strongly influenced by Blaik, and his belief in running a team with strict discipline. Like Blaik, he became a disciple of General Douglas MacArthur. It was MacArthur who actually was responsible for "Winning isnít everything; itís the only thing". But there was no pride of authorship; Lombardi coached it to the fullest.
Pro football beckoned in 1954 when the New York Giants put together a new coaching staff under Jim Lee Howell, who delegated the offense to Lombardi. Frank Gifford, the teamís star running back, openly questioned Lombardiís knowledge of pro offense early on, but by the end of that first season, Gifford admitted that Lombardi could teach them all something about the subject.
Lombardiís opportunity to be a head coach did not come until 1959, when Vince was 46. The Green Bay Packers, a community-owned team in a city of only 70,000, were losers and troubled financially. One victory was it for Green Bay the year before Lombardi.
He became the teamís coach and general manager. He insisted upon, and received, full authority. The next season, they were first, but lost the league championship to the Philadelphia Eagles. Then the parade began, with league titles in 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966, 1967, plus Super Bowl victories in 1967 and 1968. During his span of nine seasons as the Packersí head coach, the team was 141-39-4.
Lombardi retired from coaching after the 1967 season, but retained the responsibility of the teamís general manager. He missed coaching so much that, instead of displacing his own appointed head coach, he left Green Bay one year later to take the job with the Washington Redskins. His first year in Washington, the Redskins had their first winning record in 14 seasons.
In 1970, Vince Lombardi was found to be suffering from an advanced state of cancer. He died that same year at the age of 57. He is conceivably the most respected coach in the history of the National Football League. Above all other coaches, past or present, I would have welcomed the chance to play for this legend.
Last Weekís Trivia
Who was the first person to be inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame? This Olympic champion was also known for another feat. In fact, he was known for baring his feet, pardon the play on words, as Tarzan in the movies. Heís Johnny Weismuller.
Trivia Question of the Week
1970 was the year of Heisman QB candidates. Three college QB stars fought for the honor, and all three went on to distinguish themselves in the NFL. Who were they? See next weekís Sports Junkie for the answer.