This weekend, the NFL kicks off its 91st season.
(Ninety-first? Why the NFL doesn't look a day older than the latest scheme concocted by a coach who woke up this morning at 4 a.m. Sports leagues are like Dorian Gray, they grow older, but their participants look forever young.)
In honor of Kickoff Weekend, XMTS presents two pieces on the NFL's patron saint: Vince Lombardi, the man after whom the Super Bowl trophy is named.
This sharp four-minute piece from NFL Films contains the classic Lombardi clips, ("We want a seal hee-ah...," and "What the hell's goin' on out there?"), an inspiring Sam Spence-composed march (nice touch with "Greensleeves" weaved in near the end), excellent cinematography and, of course, the "voice of God," John Facenda -- whose sharp writing and impeccable delivery were one of the many reasons for NFL Films' initial success.
The vid also manages to capture Lombardi's essence without showing his most famous triumph: The Ice Bowl. But there is a clip late where the Packers run their famed sweep, Jim Taylor breaks through on the right side and left tackle Bob Skoronski escorts Taylor and clears away defenders for 85 yards. That's a left tackle, people, running with a back 85 yards to daylight. That, as much as the last drive of The Ice Bowl, shows how Lombardi's Packers teams operated.
"Lombardi ... a certain magic still lingers in the very name."
It does. So much so, there is about to be a Broadway play about him. Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins noted as much this week: "Vince Lombardi: The coach that still matters 40 years after his death." How much does he matter? Plenty.
"The living Lombardi was conflicted about his excesses, and he came to regret his association with the reductive phrase: 'Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.' He wasn't even the first to say it; he merely paraphrased another coach named Red Saunders. Still, it stuck to him like gum to his shoe, and he repented of it. 'I wished I'd never said the thing,' he said, almost desperately. 'I meant the effort. I meant having a goal. I sure didn't mean for people to crush human values and morality.'"
Which is why Lombardi is far more complex than, as Jenkins notes, the epigrams attributed to him. That Lombardi never lost sight of "human values and morality" and they are virtues on which most great coaches never compromise. It's why Lombardi, John Wooden, Bill Walsh, Greg Popovich and yes, as arrogant as he is, Phil Jackson have been wonderfully successful. As much as Jackson rubs me the wrong way, it's hard not to admire his ability to understand the talent and genius of certain players ... and to trust it.
That's what Lombardi did. At heart, he was a teacher. All coaches should be, at heart, teachers. Those who aren't, don't necessarily fail (Hello, John Calipari), but often they don't make those players they coach better than when they found them. Players are disposable and so too are the lessons. One and done, if you will.
"It was that Lombardi, a demanding and yet feeling man, who was such an incalculable loss to the coaching profession. The real Lombardi certainly did not believe that winning was everything. He understood that the scoreboard was just a facade, a small surface reflection beneath which was the real action, the tangle of relationships, the push and pull, and the cycle of work that was a form of mutual giving."
So, here's to opening weekend of the 2010 NFL season. May the best coached team win.