The Lombardi legacy: More than just a trophy

Steve Good, head coach of the River City Rattlers, watches his offense execute a play from the sidelines. Good says Lombardi’s stance on equality continues to positively affect African American football players.

By BARBARA KOLB

With the October 11 debut of the post-Broadway play “Lombardi” at The Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Vince Lombardi’s aura once again rises to issue a command performance.

Coach. Teacher. Mentor. Motivator. Feared. Revered. Loved. Hated. These words describe the man behind the mystique, the man whose influence is still felt 44 years after his death.

Vince Lombardi left a legacy in Wisconsin that is larger than the Super Bowl trophy that bears his name. Wisconsin is fortunate to have Lombardi as part of its history, and with the opening of the post-Broadway play, “Lombardi,” he can now be part of our future.

In a study guide written by Timothy Reid to prompt student discussion about the play, director Thomas Kail remarked on Lombardi’s impact on people today. “I think Lombardi is about striving for excellence. No matter what it is that one does, I think that if they approach their craft or their job with that attitude, then they can understand why Lombardi had such an impact on so many people.”

Kail also shares that although the setting for the play is grounded in the world of football, the story is more about Lombardi’s struggle to overcome his flaws in his pursuit of excellence.

Students at Mount Mary College understand and engage in this “pursuit of excellence” theme. This shared goal links even the most diehard non-football fans at Mount Mary with Vince Lombardi. But there are other people in our state who are also currently impacted by Lombardi’s legacy.

Vince Lombardi Charitable Fund / Lombardi Cancer Clinic

Lombardi’s death from colon cancer spurred members of the North Hills Country Club in Menomonee Falls to organize a golf game to raise funds for cancer research and education. The Vince Lombardi Golf Classic continues to be held annually. To date, this event and others sponsored by Vince Lombardi Charitable Funds, Inc. have raised more than $14 million.

John Schaller, president of the board of directors for the Vince Lombardi Charitable Fund, which financially supports the Lombardi Cancer Clinics, said, “Our Lombardi Cancer Clinic patients know that… being ‘cured’ does not always mean the event has ended. At VLCF we raise money to try to make all survivors ‘former’ patients whose lives run to be marathons.”

Lombardi’s drive for excellence permeates the vision of the 13 Lombardi Cancer Clinics located in Eastern Wisconsin. Their goal is to passionately serve cancer patients and their families through prevention, education, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship opportunities.

Racial Pioneer

Lombardi is also known as a racial pioneer. “Vince Lombardi believed in equality for all, regardless of race, and his football teams reflected this,” said Mark Hudziak, featured contributor in sports for Yahoo! Associated Content.

Lombardi’s arrival in 1959 as Green Bay’s head coach prompted his hiring of Emlen Tunnell as player and assistant coach. Tunnel was the first black assistant coach in the NFL.

Steve Good, head coach of the Watertown semi-professional football team, the River City Rattlers, feels Lombardi’s stance on equality continues to positively affect African American football players. However, “It still has a way to go with coaches.” Good explained, “Out of the 32 teams in the NFL, I believe four currently have black head coaches. In college football, it is even worse. Out of 112 programs, five have black coaches.”

With an Italian heritage, Lombardi learned a hard lesson early in life. Being on the receiving end of ethnic discrimination cultivated his empathetic commitment to treat everyone equally.

Lombardi’s challenge to mankind still rings true in today’s society: “Demonstrate your commitment to equality through actions as well as your words.” His unbending stance on racial equality continues to motivate us to respect and accept each other.

Leadership Principles

Lombardi’s leadership principles have taken a Lambeau leap from the locker room to the board room. Today, business consultants work within the corporate world to teach Lombardi’s “principles of success.”

“The executing [of] the basics over and over wins the business game, too,” said Wally Bock, consultant, trainer, speaker and author. He promotes “The Vince Lombardi Principle” when discussing leadership tips for supervisors.

The winning fundamentals Lombardi preached include: confidence, commitment, enthusiasm, leadership, excellence, dedication, perseverance, will, discipline and team work.

“The lessons Lombardi taught were only incidentally about football. They were about life,” said Jerry Kramer, a former Green Bay Packer lineman who played under Lombardi from 1958-68.

In light of Kramer’s comment, one well known Lombardism rings true for cancer patients, for any person caught in the throes of racial discrimination, and for those in the corporate world looking to excel. “The spirit and the will to win and the will to excel, these are the things that endure.”

The Rep promotes Lombardi as a “family-friendly tribute [which] takes you into the life and times of one of America’s most inspirational and mercurial personalities. “Lombardi” will run from Oct. 11 through Nov. 13. For more information, visit www.milwaukeerep.com.

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