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by William H. Benson

 January 3, 2001

     As a boy growing up in the 1960’s, I believed that there was really only ONE great professional football team–the Green Bay Packers.  I also believed that there was only ONE great quarterback–Bart Starr, and I further believed that there was only ONE exceedingly and extraordinarily great coach–Vince Lombardi.  Those beliefs, I am convinced, I shared with many other football fans during that era.

     On the sidelines stood Vince Lombardi, one of the former Seven Blocks of Granite, wearing a suit, tie, overcoat, a silly hat, a gap-toothed smile, thick-lens glasses, a square head atop a square block of a body, but quickly he would flash to the boiling point.  Once enraged he turned on his team, invariably hollering and yelling at his players.  “What kind of football are we playing today?” he would shout. 

     Boys in their pre-teen years almost forty years ago knew those players, knew their faces, their names, their numbers, and their positions–like Paul Hornung, Jim Taylor, Jerry Kramer, Willie Davis, Elijah Pitts, Max McGee, Fuzzy Thurston, and of course, Bart Starr.  Vince Lombardi had the knack of taking ordinary professional players and making them winners year after year.

     The emotions he conjured up in his players were always the same: awe, respect, love-hate, admiration, a measure of gratitude, and fear, especially fear.  Before his players Vince Lombardi was never uncertain, never afraid, and never dominated by anyone.  He oozed confidence. Whatever they may have felt toward him was offset by what they knew, that the difference between being a good football team and a great football team was him and only him. 

     In the training room Vince Lombardi would stand before his team and with chalk he would diagram on the chalkboard his plays.  Those X’s and O’s meant something to Vince Lombardi, and he could communicate his enthusiasm for the game to his players.  For some players who had been in the pros for a few years, it was like learning the game for the first time.

      Bart Starr later wrote, “For nine seasons, I watched him get up in training camp and diagram his favorite play, the sweep, and talk about it, and I never once got tired of his performance.  Every single time I was captivated. . . . I literally owe my life to that man.”

     The power sweep was Vince Lombardi’s play.  His entire offense revolved around it.  He transformed it into something singular.  It was his bread and butter play.  Its simplicity approached Lombardi’s sense of perfection.  It was the play that his teams practiced again and again and again and little else.  With that repetition came confidence and then passion.  They knew they could win ball games with that one play.  And they did.

     Paul Hornung or Jim Taylor carried the ball.  Forrest Gregg, the tight end, took out the defensive end.  The two guards, Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston, pulled back, ran along the line of scrimmage, and blocked for the running back.  The play was unstoppable simply because each offensive player knew in detail what his assignment was given the defense’s choices.

     Given the players he was handed, he pushed them into a realm of playing beyond their abilities, where the total was far greater that the sum of the parts.

     His pre-game speeches were legendary.  “Winning is not everything.  It is the only thing,” he told his team.  “I will demand a commitment to excellence and to victory, and that is what life is all about. . . . The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.”

     Vince Lombardi coached 204 professional football games in ten seasons–nine in Green Bay and one for the Washington Redskins, 150 wins, 48 losses, and 6 ties.  He won the first two Super Bowl Championships. He said, “We never won as many as I wanted–which was all of them.”  Intestinal cancer got him at the age of 57.  He died in September of 1970 at the beginning of another football season.  “You never lose.  But sometimes the clock runs out on you.”

     When the winner of the Super Bowl holds aloft the trophy on Sunday night, January 21, 2001 with the cameras flashing, it will not be the George Hallas Trophy nor the Paul Brown Trophy.  It will be the Vince Lombardi Trophy.  There is a reason.