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Vince Lombardi: 50 Years After His Passing

Remembering Vince Lombardi and thinking of what could have been.

Vince Lombardi At Lambeau Field Photo by Leonard McCombe/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

On September 3, 1970, Vince Lombardi passed away. While he spent almost his entire career as a head coach with the Green Bay Packers, he was the head coach of Washington when he passed.

At the age of 57, Lombardi had been a head coach in the NFL for just ten seasons. To give some perspective on this, Bill Belichick is now 68 years old.

Here is a brief comparison of where these two great pillars of the coaching community would have compared at that same age. Belichick had been a head coach for 15 seasons by the age of 57. He had coached the Cleveland Browns and the New England Patriots. Belichick had a record of 145-95 (0.604) and had won three Super Bowls while losing one. However, Vince Lombardi had a record of 96-34 (0.738) and had won five NFL Championships while losing one. That loss was the 1960 NFL Championship loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in his second season and it would be his only playoff loss.

Lombardi retired after the 1967 season and remained the Packers’ General Manager. Ray Nitschke, in his autobiography Mean on Sunday, said:

Winning was what he demanded, and winning was what he mostly got. But as he said, to win you have to pay a price, and the coach had paid more than his share. I didn’t want to think about him stepping down, I wanted him to be there, yelling at us and demanding we give 110 percent when training started in 1968. But when I saw his hands shaking and saw what those nine years had done to the man, I knew he must be giving some thought to retiring.

Lombardi endured a season in a General Manager’s box before taking that opportunity to coach in Washington, replacing Otto Graham. He took a team that had been 5-9 in 1968 and led them to a 7-5-2 season in 1969. This was Washington’s first winning season in 14 years.

Vince Lombardi was diagnosed with colon cancer and passed away in Washington, DC about two months after the diagnosis. Georgetown University named their cancer center the Lombardi Cancer Center in 1970 in his honor. Of course, the NFL named the Super Bowl trophy after him, but college football annually awards the Vince Lombardi Award to a player based on performance, leadership and character. The award features a block of granite commemorating his college playing days as a member of Fordham University’s Seven Blocks of Granite.