written by:

Adam Rank

L ombardi.

"A certain magic still lingers in the very name."

The words spoken by John Facenda decades ago still ring true to this day. You will be forgiven if you have that catchy NFL Films music stuck in your head right now, and likely for the rest of the day. Similarly, Lombardi continues to have a lasting impact on the game he dominated.

No team has enjoyed more success in the modern NFL than the Green Bay Packers. Of course, the term "modern NFL" is often used, but rarely defined. Some consider it to begin during the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants, often called the "greatest game ever played."

You could make the argument that the modern NFL actually began the following fall when Vince Lombardi, after two decades of toiling as a law school student, high school coach and assistant coach in college and the pros, finally got his break as the new head coach of the once proud Green Bay Packers.

The Packers were one of the premier teams of the early NFL, as they won six championships from 1929 through 1944. The following 15 years provided just three winning seasons until Lombardi was hired in 1959. He inherited a team that won one game the previous year. He led them to a 7-5 mark in his first season.

That would be considered the low point of his tenure in Green Bay.

Lombardi's Packers would go on to win six divisional titles. Five world championships. Included in that were the first two Super Bowls ever played. Let's put it this way: Best. Decade. Ever.

Of course, it wasn't perfect. Lombardi was obsessed in the pursuit.

"Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence," Lombardi said.

Perfection. Excellence. Just a few of the nouns commonly associated with Lombardi. Also: Discipline. Perseverance. Teamwork.

Teamwork. A group of individuals working together for one common goal. Similar to the way the boroughs of New York work together to make one of the best cities in the world. A city that gave birth to the Lombardi legend. That's right, the man who helped create the modern NFL, who earned his mark on the sidelines of Lambeau Field was a product of Brooklyn, N.Y. Almost the ideal American success story. The son of an immigrant Italian butcher would go on to have his name synonymous with the ultimate prize in sports.

It's funny when you think of it. The Super Bowl will come to the New York metropolitan area for the first time in NFL history this year. You could actually say the Super Bowl began there.

The history books say the birth of the Super Bowl occurred on January 15, 1967. The day the Packers knocked off the Kansas City Chiefs at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

However, the journey to the Super Bowl began on June 13, 1913. The day Vincent Thomas Lombardi was born. A tried and true New York success story. Perhaps he was the personification of what Frank Sinatra sang about when he said, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

This Super Bowl is an homage to Lombardi's home. Or maybe it's a homecoming. Fitting, isn't it? The Super Bowl returns to New York in the year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth.

There certainly is something magical in the very name.


Lombardi’s roots began in Brooklyn, N.Y. The three constants in his life were family, football and faith.

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L ombardi grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, a neighborhood near Coney Island. Serving as an altar boy at his local parish, Saint Mark Catholic Church, Lombardi’s early path seemed destined for priesthood.

I’ve got a great faith in God, as most people do. I don’t know how, when it started, or how far back it went, or whether it was something that I did because my mother and father did it first. But whatever it was, it certainly is something that I’ve been very proud of and very happy to have.

Realizing that priesthood was not his true calling, Lombardi shifted his focus to playing football.

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W hen Lombardi attended St. Francis Preparatory School, its building stood in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Now in Fresh Meadows, Queens, Lombardi’s influence still prevails.

There was a friend of mine. His name was Pat Joyce. He went to St. Francis Prep on Butler Street. He talked to me and I was a pretty good football player, I guess, or at least everybody thought so. They talked to me about going there for a year; and about this time I felt I didn't have the vocation to become a priest.

Lombardi attended Fordham University where he played football.  He was a member of the "Seven Blocks of Granite."  Nearly 80 years later, Fordham football is back.

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A football scholarship brought Lombardi to Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus in the Bronx. At the time, the Fordham Rams were one of the best football teams in the country.

Well, our approach to football was a major league approach. Let me put it that way, because college football was major league. Fordham was the university in New York City at the time. Fordham ranked with the top major football teams in the country. We played the top teams in the country.

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Four Vince Lombardis have lunched at John’s Deli on Staten Island. And … a high school coach that lived Lombardi’s life without the notoriety.

J ohn’s Deli boasts the best roast beef heroes in New York City. There’s also a sandwich named after the legendary coach and four New Yorkers who also share his name.

My senior year, 1936, we had a great football team. We were undefeated going into the last game and we had more or less been, off the record, been given the bid to go to the Rose Bowl which was a big achievement in those days, especially in those days. It still is a great honor.

Lombardi’s storied career revisited under the Broadway lights.

Sixty years after Lombardi made trips to Manhattan to break down game film with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, he was back, this time with his name in lights. How did the dad from "The Wonder Years" feel about playing the part?

T he Broadway Theater District is home to hundreds of musicals and stage plays every year. It was here that Lombardi’s prolific career came alive once again.

Her brother went to Fordham. So, the whole family had moved up near Fordham so he could go to school there.  They had a home in Jersey also. They had the apartment in New York City. I remember going up there with Jim one afternoon for something to eat really, is what it was! And that's how I met Marie for the first time.

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I think one of the lessons I think that everybody must learn is how to work with each other. This is what I mean by teamwork. This is one of the great lessons that football teaches.