Vincent Thomas Lombardi was born the eldest son of Matilda and Harry, named for his paternal grandfather in the Italian custom. He was delivered into the world in a second-floor bedroom on the night of June 11, 1913, in Sheepshead Bay, New York. Vince grew up in the protective care and embrace of his mother, along with two sisters, Madeline and Claire, and two brothers, Harold and Joe.
Vince Lombardi's early years included religion, family and sports. They seemed as intertwined and inseparable to him as Father, Son and Holy Ghost The church was not some distant institution to be visited once a week, but part of the rhythm of daily life. When his mother baked bread, it was one for the Lombardis, and one for the priests, which Vince shuttled down the block to St Mark's Rectory .
From an early age Vince expressed an interest in Catholicism. After a short time, Vince became an altar boy, never intending to be just another candle bearer, but wanting to be up front in the procession, bearing the golden cross. As Vincent grew older sports interested him even more. He played both basketball and baseball, but football was his favorite sport. He joined his first team when he was twelve, an outfit that was represented by Sheepshead Bay in the Brooklyn League.
With his first contact with the sport, football fascinated Vince. He said years later, "contact, controlled violence, a game where the mission was to hit someone harder, knees up, elbows out, challenge your body, mind and spirit, exhaust yourself and seek redemption through fatigue, such were the rewards an altar boy found in his favorite game."
When Vince became big enough, his father put him and his brother Joe to work in his family owned business - a butcher shop. Bull meat was the Lombardi specialty. Vince and his little brother Joe, could only laugh years later when asked if they had lifted weights. "Never touched a barbell, they said, only slabs of meat"
Vince was a smiling young man with outbursts of laughter that made him a likeable person. While attending Catholic school to become a priest, Vincent continued to play football on Sunday afternoons, even though the school had no football team. The Cathedral priests disapproved of violent sports. The only thing worse was going out with girls.
In the end, Lombardi could not say the words "I want to be a priest," with conviction. He left Cathedral in 1932. Lombardi said later that he "was not intended to be a priest." As much as he tried to direct his thoughts to be the peaceful young man of God's salvation, he could not divert himself from earthly temptations. He loved physical contact more than spiritual contact, and could not shake his preference for the game of football, a virtual sin at Cathedral.
Lombardi continued to search for a football team he could play on where he could win a college scholarship. He found St. Francis Prep, where they were searching for a boy like him. Vince went on to play football and study law at Fordham University. He became a member of the "Seven Blocks of Granite", the front line of Fordham's defense. He graduated in 1937, then taught Latin and Chemistry for eight years at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, New Jersey.
Lombardi's first head coaching job was for a basketball team. Not knowing much about basketball, he still took his team to a regional title. With that success he also began coaching football.
On August 31, 1940, Vince Lombardi and Marie Plantz were married. They had two children, a son Vincent Jr. and a daughter, Susan.
From 1947 to 1948, Vince served as an assistant football coach at his alma mater, Fordham University. In 1949, an assistant coaching job became available at the United States Military Academy at West Point, a wonderful opportunity for Vince. He coached for them until 1953.Vince's next coaching position was with the New York Giants of the National Football League from 1954 until 1958.
In 1959, Vince Lombardi was hired as head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers. Lombardi imposed an unusually strenuous regimen on his players, most of whom had become accustomed to defeat. In his second year, Green Bay led the Western Conference of the NFL. Subsequently, the Packers won the league championship in 1961-62 and 1965-67 and defeated Kansas City and Oakland in the Super Bowl games following the 1966 and 1967 seasons.
Retiring as coach, Lombardi served the Packers as general manager in 1968. Then, in 1969, he went to the Washington Redskins of the NFL as head coach and general manager, and part owner. He led the team to its first winning season in 14 years. Tragically, he was stricken with cancer during that 1969 season and succumbed at the age of 57 in 1970.
Today the legacy of Mr. Lombardi is carried on by his estate, which includes his son, Vince Lombardi, Jr., and his daughter Susan. Lombardi's reputation as a tough guy's tough guy and a fireball on the sidelines and in practice shows the heart and the drive this man had for football and life. Those of us who have read about his life and accomplishments and those who knew him personally will always respect his determination and his willingness to sacrifice the small things in life only to achieve those things that are great in life.