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It was 53 years ago today in Washington football history Vince Lombardi appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated March 3, 1969.
Lombardi appearing in coat and tie, the cover read, “Vince Lombardi Puts a Legend on the Line.”
Lombardi in Green Bay had turned things around instantly with a 7-5, 1959 team, the first winning Packers team since Curly Lambeau’s 1947 (6-5-1) team. All Lombardi accomplished in his nine seasons with Green Bay was a winning season each year, an 89-29-4 regular-season record, 3 NFL Championships, and the first two Super Bowl Championships.
Retiring on top, following 1967 season, Lombardi was an executive with the Packers in 1968 and miserable.
Hired by the Redskins in 1969, Lombardi at his first press conference proclaimed, “Gentlemen, it is not true that I can walk across the Potomac River—not even when it is frozen.”
Washington had been 5-9 in 1968, and had last enjoyed a winning season in 1955 (8-4), long before any of the Redskins Lombardi inherited. There were however three future Hall of Famers: Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor and Chris Hanburger.
Sam Huff returned for the 1969 season, having come out of retirement to play one season under Lombardi. Lombardi promised in that first press conference, “We’re going to have a winner the first year!”
Indeed Lombardi was a winner, leading Washington to a 7-5-2 record in his only season in Washington. He was diagnosed with colon cancer June, 1970, and died September 3, 1970, only age 57.
A few more excerpts quoting Lombardi in the SI issue:
“I’m not a legend, because I don’t want to be a legend. One main reason I came back to coaching is that I didn’t want to be regarded as a legend…I’m too young to be a legend.”
“Now a good coach is a good coach. Right? If you take all 26 coaches in pro football and look at their football knowledge, you’d find almost no difference. So if the knowledge isn’t different, what’s different? The coach’s personality. See?” He paused, then laughed—arararararargh!—and said, “Now how am I supposed to explain my own personality? What am I supposed to say? That I’m a great leader? A mental powerhouse? That I’ve got charisma?”
“You cannot be successful in football—or in any organization—unless you have people who bend to your personality. They must bend or already be molded to your personality.”
“I believe a man should be on time—not a minute late, not 10 seconds late—but on time for things. I believe that a man who’s late for meetings or for the bus won’t run his pass routes right. He’ll be sloppy.”
“I just heard the other day about a kid I used to coach in high school. I heard he’s in trouble. I heard he’s drinking, doing a lot of heavy drinking… Lombardi rubbed the three-diamond setting in his huge Super Bowl ring and he said, “It’s corny and it’ll sound awful in writing, but you just feel bad when you know you couldn’t get through to a kid like that.”
 
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