The Untold Truth Of Vince Lombardi

Iconic football coach Vince (Vincent) Lombardi was a man ahead of his time, who was not afraid to do what it takes to become extraordinary in his field, using his coaching skills to make NFL history. He came from a family of immigrants and worked his way to the top, confronting many obstacles along the way. According to The New York Times, his coaching career as well as life off the field was interesting, full of powerful incidents that have inspired generations of players. 

Despite being such a notable public figure, certain details from his life remain relatively unknown. For example, Lombardi was inspired by tough men early in his life, seeking inspiration from military men and turning to strong quotes such as, "If you can walk, you can run." Another interesting fact — Lombardi started his stint as head coach pretty late in life — at the age of 46, to be precise. Pretty cool, huh?

He was also someone who didn't hesitate to be transparent about his thoughts on difficult subjects. After senator and presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, for example, Lombardi couldn't help but express his angst. He asked, "What's the matter with the world? There has been complete breakdown of mental discipline."

Lombardi, it must be said, was no ordinary figure in American sports. Here's an intricate look at his fascinating life, including his rise to fame and his early years.

Vince Lombardi was born to immigrant parents

Vince Lombardi was born in June 1913 to immigrant parents in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was a part of a big family and had four siblings, as per Biography. His father was an Italian butcher, and Lombardi was raised in Sheepshead Bay, attending several institutions as a boy, including Cathedral High School and St.Francis Preparatory School (via The New York Times).

What Vince's childhood like? Well, strict, to begin with. As per the book, Lombardi: His Life And Times, by Robert Wells, Vince and his siblings were required to obey their parents and live up to their expectations. This was, in part, inspired by the way Vince's father grew up himself. For example, despite being financially sound, Harry Lombardi found himself working when he was young, helping out with the family's trucking business.

To be fair, Vince did not have a bad childhood despite growing up in a strict environment. It also helped that his mom was extremely gentle and amiable, allowing Vince and his siblings to bring their friends home for hearty meals and some banter. They also had a big extended family, which meant that they were never deprived of good company.

Vince Lombardi had a strict upbringing

Vince Lombardi didn't have much of a choice as far as his father was concerned. Harry Lombardi was stern and didn't like to be challenged, according to Lombardi: His Life And Times, by Robert Wells. He didn't tolerate bad behavior, and it was essential to follow his rules. It is believed that Vince learned to be both stern and sensitive from both his parents, incorporating some of their most characteristic traits into his personality as an adult.

Also, Vince was expected to get his hands dirty and work hard as a boy, helping out at his father's butcher shop, working with beef and pork meat and selling the produce to customers. These experiences may have been difficult to live through, but Vince did reap the benefits — he appreciated the value of hard work early in his life and knew that to truly get somewhere, he would have to give it his best shot. His upbringing also taught him to be stoic and not whine — accepting the situation and learning to embrace things as they were. Vince's father played an important role here and told him to bear the pain whenever he ended up with minor injuries on the job, something that majorly impacted the way he behaved as an adult.

Vince Lombardi was supposed to be a priest

Vincent Lombardi didn't always know what he was meant to do. In fact, he studied to be a priest in his early years, believing that this was the right choice for him. As highlighted in Lombardi: His Life And Times, by Robert Wells, this made sense because Lombardi's parents were incredibly religious, and something like this was expected from Lombardi who was the oldest son and had the responsibility of setting an example for his younger siblings. Also, Lombardi was often around older religious family members, interacting with them at length and studying their perspective.

Lombardi's friends, interestingly, mentioned later that they think that he would have been a great priest if he'd chosen that as his profession. But of course, Lombardi deciding to choose priesthood would have meant that football would have missed out on someone rather talented and rare. It took Lombardi a while to figure out that he wasn't quite ready to be a priest. He found himself wondering whether pursuing sports professionally was a more suitable option for him. Turns out, he was quite right.

He was awarded a scholarship

Vince Lombardi's skills were undeniable as a sports player. Once he decided to pursue football, it didn't take too long for him to prove his mettle. In fact, he was so good that he was given a lucrative scholarship at Fordham University that covered all his expenses. According to the Fordham University website, he arrived at the university in 1933, determined to make an impact. 

Additionally, what helped Lombardi was the fact that he was on a super flexible arrangement with his university. As per the book, Lombardi: His Life And Times, by Robert Wells, the university was a rather prestigious name in those times. Understandably, Lombardi was extremely grateful for the opportunity and didn't hesitate to accept the scholarship. The deal was simple — all his costs would be taken care of, and all Lombardi had to do was be consistent with his grades in school and play football. In fact, a curious young Lombardi wondered how things would play out if something went amiss. He was told, "If you're injured or if you don't make the team, you keep the scholarship. But then you'll have to do some other kind of work around the campus."

The university taught him to be tough

Interestingly, Vince Lombardi didn't have the most ideal physique for football, but that didn't stop him from working hard. An arresting description by Fordham University says it best. It reads, "At five-foot-eight and 185 pounds, the stocky but undersized kid from Sheepshead Bay was determined to make an impression on the gridiron. Little did he know how lasting this impression would be."

What was obvious from the beginning was the fact that Lombardi was a huge football fan and could not help but feel excited about the game, which was a rather endearing quality to those who interacted with him. He was mentored by coach Jim Crowley, a man who was responsible for creating an ultra-talented team of ball players, who were often referred to as "The Seven Blocks of Granite" and effortlessly made waves in the world of college football. Later, Lombardi learned more about the sport at West Point while working as an assistant coach for the United States Military Academy, picking up new skills from head coach Col. Red Blaik.

Vince Lombardi experimented a little

Intriguingly, Vince Lombardi even wondered whether he should pursue a career as a lawyer and work on building his skillset. As per Biography, he decided to take up law after spending a brief amount of time as a pro-football athlete. In his defense, he tried other things but really couldn't stop himself from being attracted to football, enthusiastically working as a spirited coach to aspiring ball players at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, N.J., where he spent eight long years.

He also went back to his alma mater, Fordham University, where he was a coach for a little while. He decided to leave when he realized that he'd never get what he wanted from the job — he wished to overtake head coach Ed Danowski but that seemed unlikely, sadly. He then decided to make the move to West Point where he worked as an offensive line coach for five seasons, getting better at excelling and delivering results as a coach. He also taught subjects like Latin and science on the side.

Vince Lombardi first coached the New York Giants

After serving as a high school coach and working at West Point, Vince Lombardi was ready for something bigger and better — professional football. According to his official website, what really helped Lombardi was the fact that he was extremely hard working and prioritized his work over everything else. It was this trait that worked in his favor and got him a spot with the New York Giants.

He spent five years with the New York Giants and helped them rack up major victories, including the league championship in 1956. His stories stayed legendary, years after he left the Giants. According to USA Today, his championship ring from his time with the Giants received a handsome amount at an auction decades later — it was the piece that was the most expensive in his collection and was auctioned for $50,131. The ring, by the way, was a ten-karat gold ring that was made available by Lombardi's son. Plus, his time with the New York Giants set the way forward for the greatest milestone of his career.

His time with the Green Bay Packers was a major turning point

Vince Lombardi's long and legendary stint with the Green Bay Packers is the stuff that legends are made of. As pointed out by his website, the contract was meant to last five years when he signed. Lombardi's intentions as a coach were clear — grooming his players to be the best on the field and pushing them to perform. Whatever Lombardi was thinking, it worked wonders for the team and helped them achieve exactly what they were looking for. 

All in all, the Green Bay Packers were an incredibly successful team, and they left their competitors far behind. Their achievements that took place under Lombardi's guidance were very impressive — five NFL victories in the championships, including the first two editions of the Super Bowl. According to the Bleacher Report, Lombardi's contribution to the field was so significant that it led to the creation of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, awarded to the best team each year. As noted by ESPN, Lombardi single-handedly turned things around for the Green Bay Packers and set the way forward for other players in the field.

Vince Lombardi is hailed as one of the greatest coaches ever

From all accounts, Vince Lombardi is one of the best, most accomplished coaches ever to have been a part of NFL. According to The New York Times, Lombardi had extraordinary skills and he knew it. Think about this — when he was at St.Cecilia, he proved that he was a versatile coach capable of achieving many great things and coached the football, baseball, and the basketball teams, which was no easy feat. Plus, his football team had as many as 36 consecutive wins one after another around the time he was at St. Cecilia. Impressive.

As reported by Bleacher Report, Lombardi's Green Bay Packers had 13 players who made it to the Hall of Fame, and many of them could credit Lombardi for their achievements. The one thing that Lombardi highly valued was hard work and persistence, and he motivated his players to do their best no matter their situation. He was essentially a man who led his players through the highs and lows of being football players by inspiring and pushing them.

Vince Lombardi tried to retire from the sport

After working with the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi considered stepping away from the game and taking some time off from everything when he was 53. However, he simply could not force himself from doing the one thing that he loved doing. As per The New York Times, it took him only one year before he decided that he needed to get back to coaching. Things were working out for Lombardi — he was offered a coaching job with the Washington Redskins in 1969, a lucrative opportunity that he decided to accept. Additionally, during his time with the Redskins, he served as a general manager and owned 5% of the team's stocks.

According to Sports Illustrated, the coach's entry proved to be a blessing for the team that was previously struggling. In fact, after Lombardi started coaching the team, the Redskins improved drastically and achieved their first winning streak since 1955.

Vince Lombardi was a strict taskmaster

Vince Lombardi was rather efficient in terms of delivering results and helping teams succeed on the field. While this is relatively well-known, what is important to understand is that he had a reputation as a strict coach (via The New York Times). He really wasn't easy to please and expected nothing but the best from his players. 

A former player from the Packers had a rather insightful comment to make. He said that if Lombardi told you to sit down, you had no option but to do exactly that — and you shouldn't waste time hunting for a chair during the process. "He's fair. He treats us all the same — like dogs," another player added. Yet another player said that Lombardi basically relied on fear to get results from his players. Full disclosure — this particular player was fired when Lombardi was the coach.

Lombardi's son once offered a rare glimpse into the coach's personality (via the BBC). He said, "He was no different at home to how he was anywhere else. For a coach he had two qualities: he was a perfectionist and had a short temper. For him being my father, those weren't such great qualities." Players could expect relentless, brutal training regimens when working with Lombardi. That said, Lombardi cherished his job and thought highly of it. He said, "It's not coaching, it's teaching."

Vince Lombardi was diagnosed with cancer

Vince Lombardi had to confront an unexpected tragedy in 1970 when he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. He was 57 years old when he died of the disease (via The New York Times). His sudden death was a huge blow for many. According to USA Today, the coach was diagnosed at a later stage, which meant that it was incredibly difficult to save him. He had started experiencing digestive issues back in 1967 but didn't agree to a proctoscopy exam. This test could have saved him and helped doctors catch his disease earlier.

Why was Lombardi so hesitant to the idea of a proctoscopy? NFL icon Jerry Kramer explained, "He was uncomfortable with the concept. He knew about it, but he didn't do it." It's important to remember that Lombardi's cancer diagnosis put a dent in his coaching plans. Also, he didn't get much time at all after he was diagnosed with the deadly illness. As per the BBC, he died ten weeks after finding out about his cancer.

Doctors did try to save the coach by performing surgery in a bid to cut off a tumor (via The Washington Post). In just a few weeks after the surgery, he found himself back in the hospital, waiting for more surgery. Sadly, he didn't survive and died on Sept. 3, 1970. The Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation was founded in 1971 to pay tribute to the extraordinary coach and help patients diagnosed with the disease.