The man behind the Lombardi Trophy
The Lombardi Trophy is presented to the Super Bowl Champion each year. It's a silver trophy with a regulation-sized silver football mounted in a kicking position on a pyramidal stand consisting of three concave sides. Tiffany & Company has produced the trophy since it was designed in 1967 for the first NFL-AFL Championship game. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in January 1971, in the lead-up to Super Bowl V, the trophy was named after the late legendary football coach, Vincent “Vince” T. Lombardi, who died in the summer of 1970. Lombardi, who is still considered by many to be the greatest football coach of all time (with due respect to Bill Bellichik) even a half-century after his death, is revered because of his character as much, or more, than his coaching ability.
Lombardi was born in 1913 in Brooklyn, NY. As a young man, he felt his calling was to become a Catholic priest, and later attended Fordham University. As an undersized lineman, Lombardi excelled, becoming a member of the famed ‘Seven Blocks of Granite’ on the Fordham line. He began coaching at St. Cecilia High School and later became an assistant coach at the U.S. Military Academy. In 1959, after a time as the offensive line coach for the New York Giants, he was hired by the Green Bay Packers. His leadership turned them from hapless losers to a perennial powerhouse, winning five league championships, including two Super Bowls, in a span of nine years, according to an August 2016 Leadership Geeks article. However, it is Lombardi the person, not Lombardi the coach, who has remained a legend over the decades.
Lombardi is known for his tireless battle against racism. His own experience of persecution of his Italian heritage early in life perhaps shaped this mission. In college, Lombardi got in a fight with a teammate who taunted him by asking him to stand next to another Italian American player to determine whose complexion was darker. Another incident that was painful to Lombardi, reported by sportswriter Jerry Izenberg, was when a friend advised him to not seek a coaching career because “the NFL wouldn’t hire a head coach with a last name that ended on a vowel.” By this, he meant they wouldn't hire an Italian American, according to the University of Wisconsin.
Lombardi was a champion of equality before his time. He fought for and achieved improved living accommodations for Black players on the Green Bay Packers. Quality housing was not something that these players could take for granted in small-town America in the early 1960s, the Green Bay Gazette explained. In another incident, when a restaurant owner in a southern city insisted that the Black players enter and leave through a back door, Lombardi instructed all of the Packers players to do so, according to a Dessert Opinion Aug. 31 article.
The character of Lombardi is summarized well by one of his quotes: “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” His 10 guiding principles for living, according to a Fearless Motivation Lombardi Life Lessons Article, were as follows: Work harder than everybody. Be prepared to sacrifice. Chase perfection (impossible to catch perfection, but chasing it will result in excellence). Ask yourself tough questions. Be completely committed. Balance humility and pride. Act, don’t react. Think big picture. Be mentally tough. Look the truth straight on.
Learning about Lombardi, the person, it is apparent that the reverence he has earned from so many people is no accident or stroke of luck. His legacy is the result of a lifetime spent developing a superior character and a tireless work ethic. Lombardi is a person whom you wish you had a chance to know and who is an exemplary role model for everyone, football players or not.