By Joseph Staszewski
Vince Lombardi hasn’t been on a football sideline in more than 40 years, but his principles about life are still relevant today.
It is one of the reasons the Hall of Fame Green Bay Packers coach was a perfect candidate to be recognized last Wednesday as a Hometown Hall of Famer at St. Francis Prep, the place where his passion for football began, according to his grandson John. The award is the 77th of its kind given out by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and during an afternoon ceremony, a plaque in Lombardi’s honor was unveiled in front of an auditorium filled with students, faculty and numerous alumni.
Lombardi, a 1933 graduate and All-City player at St. Francis Prep when the school was in Brooklyn, stood for giving everything you had to achieve what you are passionate about and working with others to do so. Anything less was unacceptable to him.
“He made you better than you ever thought you could be,” John Lombardi said.
That is what coaching is about. It’s about making your players both better athletes and people after they leave you. You can’t get better without something to strive for, and winning is a reward for learning the lessons that coaches teach. Lombardi was an all-time, anytime great when it came to that.
“He would have been an excellent leader today,” legendary St. Francis Prep football Coach Vince O’Connor said.
Sure, Lombardi won a lot — two Super Bowls and five NFC titles — and we likely wouldn’t care about him if he didn’t. But let’s take a second to look at how he got there. He treated players fairly, honestly and as people. Lombardi inspired them to work as a team for each other, not just their individual gain as one too many young athletes do today.
“He did not coach a team of players,” said Rutgers football Coach and SFP alum Kyle Flood said. “He coached every individual within that team and I think it is a lesson that anyone in teaching and coaching can be served well to study at all times.”
Throughout the afternoon, many of Lombardi’s famous sayings regarding life and football and the ideals he lived by were brought up. They included chasing excellence, perseverance and teamwork. He was an example of how to do it all. What he taught wasn’t foreign to St. Francis Prep running back Justin Guerre, it is something he has heard from coaches throughout his life.
“They sound very familiar,” he said.
The long-term reason for the plaque is the hope that it will inspire more young people, not just the football players, to strive to be whatever they want to be and to inspire students to believe they can get there. It is the coaches’ jobs to help make that happen in any small way they can.
“He’s got a life and a record of achievement that I think people can look to and take some inspiration from and help them get to where they want to go,” John Lombardi said.
Apply some of Lombardi’s principles and you just may be on your way.