“Football is a special game … the men who play it make it so.”
The iconic NFL Films voice-over and Sam Spence music composition are well known to National Football League fans. ESPN took the time to recognize the men who coached and mentored the players of this special game.
“In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Vince Lombardi's birth, we salute the finest innovators, motivators, tacticians, teachers and champions ever to stalk the sidelines.”
The sports cable channel knows that creating a top-20 coaches list with consideration for all NFL coaches since the league’s inception in 1920, is no simple task. The bottom 19 coaches are all stellar, and the ESPN introduction to this segment rightly asks “How exactly do you quantify that greatness? Wins and losses? Championships? Innovation?”
It all comes down to today, June 11, when Vince Lombardi is named ESPN’s “Greatest Coach in NFL History.” No big surprise here, as the legend and legacy of Vince Lombardi is not very much in dispute. Winner of five championships, including Super Bowls I and II with the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi’s prolific career (which started in 1959) is sacred, and he exemplified the grit and toughness of the game in his era. His name is etched on every Super Bowl trophy and still, years after his death, the Brooklyn native’s powerful quotes inspire success, in locker rooms and board rooms alike.
How would Vince Lombardi’s demanding coaching style fare in today’s game? The modern NFL has evolved into highly sophisticated sport, including many features that would be foreign to the Lambeau legend.
Lombardi was known as a stern and relentless coach who led championship teams by building strong fundamentals, “hard work, discipline, execution and the pursuit of perfection.” Some would argue that these principles never go out of style and might even improve upon today’s crop of flashy, privileged and coddled football player. Jerry Kramer, Lombardi’s All-Pro right guard argues that he was a master psychologist who “knew every individual” and understood when to get in a player’s face and when to support him.
As far as the playbook goes, Lombardi would likely have to familiarize himself with the complex passing schemes that didn’t exist in his time. The players and people that knew him seem assured that Lombardi, the skilled tactician, would adjust to the passing attack and display trademark mastery at the core elements of the game; running, blocking, and tackling.
Some of the modern NFL trappings like free agency and multi-million dollar contracts might upset Coach Lombardi, however. "He would probably struggle with free agency because he believed in loyalty," says Hall of Famer Herb Adderley, “… and also (with) the behavior of some of the players." The 24 hour media cycle might piss him off too. "ESPN and all that. He would hate to be interviewed at halftime." says form Packer safety Tom Brown.
All things considered, his old players insist that Lombardi, whose prolific career was the inspiration for a recent Broadway show, would have succeeded in the NFL no matter the era. "Oh my God, he just wasn't a football coach; he was also a teacher of the game of life," Brown said. "I don't think there's a day that goes by that I don't think of him."
Congratulations and Happy Birthday, Coach.