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Vincent Thomas Lombardi (June 11, 1913 - September 3, 1970) was one of the most successful head coaches in the history of American football. He was the driving force of the Green Bay Packers from 1959 to 1967, leading them in the capture of five NFL championships during his 9 year tenure. Following a one-year retirement from coaching in 1968, he returned as head coach of the Washington Redskins for the 1969 season. He owns a 9-1 record in the post-season.
Vincent Thomas Lombardi was born on June 11, 1913, in Brooklyn to Neapolitan-born father Enrico "Harry" Lombardi, a butcher, and Brooklyn-born Matilda Izzo, the daughter of a barber, whose parents had immigrated as teenagers from just east of Salerno in southern Italy. Vince Lombardi was raised in the Sheepshead Bay area of southern Brooklyn and attended its public schools through the eighth grade.
In 1928, at the age of 15, he entered Cathedral Preparatory Seminary, a six-year secondary program to become a Catholic priest. After four years, Lombardi decided not to pursue this path and transferred to the St. Francis Preparatory High School, where he was a standout on the football team (an activity that was discouraged at the seminary). Lombardi remained a devout Catholic throughout his life.
In 1933, Lombardi accepted a football scholarship to Fordham University in the Bronx to play for new head coach Sleepy Jim Crowley, one of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame in the 1920s. Lombardi was an undersized guard (5'8" 185 lb.) on Fordham's imposing front line, which became known as the Seven Blocks of Granite. It held Fordham's opponents scoreless several times during a string of twenty-five consecutive victories. Frank Leahy, future head coach at Notre Dame, was Lombardi's position coach. In the classroom, Lombardi was, at best, a slightly above-average student. He was awarded his bachelor's degree from Fordham in June 1937, five days after his 24th birthday.
Lombardi, age 41, began his career as a professional football coach in 1954. He accepted what would later become known as the offensive coordinator position for the NFL's New York Giants, under new head coach Jim Lee Howell. The Giants had finished the previous season, under 23-year coach Steve Owen, with a 3-9 record. By the third season, Lombardi, along with defensive coordinator Tom Landry, turned the squad into a championship team, defeating the Chicago Bears for the title in 1956. Lombardi relied on the talents of Frank Gifford, whom Lombardi switched from defense to offense as a pass-option player.
Lombardi stepped down as head coach of the Packers following the 1967 NFL season, staying on as the team's general manager for 1968. He handed off the head coaching position to Phil Bengtson, a longtime assistant, but the Packers finished at 6-7-1 and out of the 4 team NFL playoffs. Lombardi returned to coaching in 1969, this time with the Washington Redskins, where he broke a string of 14 losing seasons. Their record was 7-5-2, just two ties short of 9-5. The team was significant for a number of reasons. Lombardi discovered that rookie running back Larry Brown was deaf in one ear, something his parents, schoolteachers, and previous coaches had overlooked. He had observed Brown's habit of tilting his head in one direction when listening to signals being called, and walked behind him during drills and said "Larry". When Brown did not answer, the coach asked him to take a hearing exam. Brown was fitted with a hearing aid.
Lombardi was the first coach to get soft-bellied quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, one of the league's premier forward passers, to get into the best condition he could. He coaxed former All-Pro linebacker Sam Huff out of retirement. He even changed the team's uniform design to reflect that of the Packers (with gold and white trim along the jersey biceps, and later a gold helmet. The foundation Lombardi laid was the groundwork for Washington's early 1970s success under former Ram Coach George Allen. Lombardi had brought a winning attitude to the Nation's Capital, in the same year that Maryland University basketball hired "Lefty" Driesell and the hapless Washington Senators named Ted Williams as manager. It marked a renaissance in sports interest in one of America's most transient cities.
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