This past year the world in general and Packernation in particular were treated to the first replay of Super Bowl I. It wasn’t even a Super Bowl at the time, just a championship game and one of many in the Packers already storied history. But one voice was heard long before the replay of the game was available, one man has been quoted from the time he turned the Packers (who had not been a dominant team for many years) into a champion until today. One man etched his winning ways on the Packers franchise and in turn, the newly merged NFL etched his name upon the trophy that would signify the championship for as long as the NFL existed. On this Father’s Day, I am here to name Vince Lombardi the Father of modern football.
1. A Newly Named Championship
Packers fans are some of the few fans of the NFL that understand that the Super Bowl is simply a name for a football championship that existed long before. The Packers had been champions in their history, but had dropped off for many years. The NFL was changing and for the first time, the AFC met the NFC for a new kind of rivalry and a new kind of championship. Vince Lombardi proved that the NFC was the mack-daddy and the AFC still had a ways to go. But at the same time, would it be a stretch to say that he Fathered the championship Packers into existence and in turn was largely responsible for the world falling in love with the game of football? Championships from that day on would argue “Yes” in the name upon their trophy.
2. EVERY Champion, every year, ends the season at the feet of Vince Lombardi
Even when the Packers don’t win the Super Bowl, I take pride in one fact. Every team that wins the Super Bowl…every one…ends their season beneath the feet of the Father of modern football, Vince Lombardi. They pass the trophy around, touching it and kissing it and giving it homage, and then the trophy is raised high above the team as if Lombardi, understanding that the game is even greater than his particular teams, crowns the champion. This ceremony will never pass from the Suepr Bowl and I will enjoy it every year. And yet it is this ceremony too that makes those years (many may they be) that the Packers win the Super Bowl…all the more special as the Father is once again reunited with his grandchildren. I ask you PackerNation…does it get any better than that?
3. At his death, three teams attended to say goodbye
While too soon (at 57) Vince Lombardi’s death marked another touchstone for the greatness of the man and the greatness of the game of football. After coaching the Redskins to its first winning season in 14 years, Vince (who had had surgery to remove a tumor in his colon) went back for a second procedure and was never able to leave the hospital. At his funeral, Vince Lombardi was visited by many members of three NFL teams (Packers, Giants, Redskins), students, colleagues from West Point and classmates from Fordham University. Never had there been such an outpouring for a football coach and there likely will never be such again. As all these players and people said goodbye to Vince, they said goodbye to a man who had changed a sport, and if my final point is taken…had changed it for the better.
4. Vince Lombardi had ZERO tolerance for prejudice
Imagine if you will what our beloved game would look like if racism had been able to abide through the years. No Jim Brown, no Reggie White, no Christian Akoye etc. Vince Lombardi was one of the first coaches to institute a zero tolerance policy for racism on his teams. Lombardi was tough on everybody, it is well known, but the color of a person’s skin didn’t factor into his football equation…it was play on the field that mattered. Vince protected players as people and players, not as a function of the color of their skin going so far as to vow to cut anyone who acted against another in a prejudicial manner. But race wasn’t the only thing he protected. While at the Redskins, Lombardi found that one of his players was gay. Lombardi protected him, again insisting on perfection as a player but protecting each person as a beloved individual.
Fathers are coaches, they are mentors, sometimes their children do things they disagree with. Fathers demand perfection out of love, and the belief that each person should reach their full potential and make an impact on the world. Fathers may not always agree with their childrens actions, but always love their children. Vince Lombardi embodied so many of these attributes and did so at such a high level that he deserves to be called “The Father of Modern Football”, other coaches felt the same way, but none of them led the NFL into a new era…none of them coach from the grave as Vince Lombardi still does. None of them still command such respect that each and every champion raises their name on high in celebration and love, reveling in the joy of being a champion.
So Happy Father’s Day to all Fathers out there today. I hope you have a great one and please give a shout-out to Vince in the comments below or back on the Facebook Fanpage…I believe he will hear each and every one!