Fordham Law

On This Day in History: June 11; Chose Football Over Priesthood

Alumnus Vince Lombardi in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 11, 2009

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by Vernon Parker

Vincent Thomas Lombardi was born on June 11, 1913 in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay section to Henry Lombardi, a meat wholesaler who had emigrated from Italy, and Matilda (Izzo) Lombardi. As a boy, Lombardi planned to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood. He attended Cathedral High School and St. Francis Preparatory School. While at St. Francis, he was a fullback on the football team and belonged to the basketball, baseball, and track teams.

After graduation from St. Francis in 1933, Lombardi entered Fordham University in the Bronx. From 1934 through 1936 he played guard on what was then the most feared line in college football — the “Seven Blocks of Granite.” He won three football letters at Fordham and earned a reputation as a scrapper whose violent charges made him appear twice as big as his 172 pounds. Lombardi, who majored in business, was an excellent student and made the Dean’s List. He graduated from Fordham with a B.S. degree in 1937.

Lombardi attended evening classes at Fordham School of Law from 1937 to 1939. To pay for his studies he worked days as an insurance investigator and played football on weekends for a minor league professional team called the Brooklyn Eagles. His first coaching experience was as assistant football coach at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, NJ at an annual salary of $1,700, for which he also taught physics, chemistry, algebra and Latin. He had great success with his ‘T’ formation offense tactics, and his football teams won six N.J. state championships and once picked up 36 wins in a row. In 1942 Lombardi became head football, basketball, and baseball coach at St. Cecilia. In 1945 his basketball team won the N.J. parochial school championship.

Lombardi went on to become freshman coach back at Fordham (’47), coach at U.S. Military Academy at West Point (’49), then offense coach for the New York Giants (’54). In Lombardi’s first season the Giants scored 293 points and won seven of 12 games, compared to scoring only 179 points and losing nine games the season before. In 1956 the Giants won their first NFL championship since 1938.

In 1959 a chance came for Lombardi to be general manager and head coach of the Green Bay (Wisc.) Packers. He took up residence with his family in Green Bay, a city highly devoted to football and to its Packers.

Under Lombardi’s rule the Packers won six division titles, five NFL championships and two Super Bowls.

He was very active in community life in Green Bay and was a Knight of Columbus (4th degree) and an Elk. His favorite recreation was golf. He wrote a book (with W.C. Heinz) about football, Run to Daylight! (1963, Prentice-Hall). A restaurant in Green Bay has a “Lombardi Room” and the local TV station had a program “The Vince Lombardi Show” during football season. Lombardi once said: “A school without football is always in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall.”

He died on September 3, 1970. He was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1971, the same year that the Super Bowl trophy was renamed in his honor. ESPN has dubbed him “Coach of the Century.”