Lost Super Bowls

Tom Danyluk was a regular columnist for the late, lamented Pro Football Weekly for several years and his book on the 1970s, The Super 70s, is an enlightening and entertaining read. Recently, I’ve been reading a second book of his called The Lost Super Bowls, 1961-1965: A Fictional Scrapbook. In this imaginative volume, Danyluk assays what might have occurred had the NFL taken up the American Football League’s challenge for a “World Series” of football five years before the two leagues merged.

For each year, Danyluk concocts a series of articles in fictional newspapers of the time to cover the highlights of the season, the title games that took place in each league, the leadup to that year’s lost Super Bowl and game accounts of the faux contest, complete with invented quotes from all the principals involved. It’s a lot of fun to read.

For each game, the “Baltimore Tribune-Democrat” creates a “tale of the tape” matchup of the starting lineups of the two teams. These serve as wonderful thumbnail sketches of the players for a particular season and change from year to year. For example, in 1961 Bart Starr is described as “Still learning the game as he feeds Lombardi’s run-oriented attack.” A year later, “QB version of a corporate bond-won’t land you in Monte Carlo, but you won’t go broke either.” Then in 1965, “Runs offense with military precision. Smart. Cool headed. Doesn’t doubt himself.”

Jim Ringo is called “Brainy and panther quick.” Henry Jordan, “the prime minster of def. tackles.” Willie Wood, “Patrols the depths like a hawk over the prairie.” Jim Taylor, “You think of Nagurski or Hinkle here.” Paul Hornung, “Patient. Allows blockers to pool, then detonates when he senses the goal line.” Willie Davis, “Agile enough to play linebacker.” Dave Robinson, “Leopard-like reactions.” Marvelous stuff.

Spoiler alert, the NFL does not prevail in each fabricated Super Bowl described here.

1962tbstarr  1962tjringo







Ringo custom card is colorized.

L. B. Andrew

Next month, my latest book– Pioneer Coaches of the NFL: Shaping the Game in the Days of Leather Helmets and 60-Minute Men–comes out, and one of the coaches I cover, LeRoy Andrew, was born on this day 123 years ago. In a chapter entitled “Taking Flight: Curly Lambeau and LeRoy Andrew Work the Passing Game,” I explore how Andrew and Lambeau opened up the game in the first decade of the NFL. As such, in 1929 and ’30, the clashes between Curly’s Packers and LeRoy’s Giants largely determined the league champion. Here’s an excerpt about those games:

The eagerly awaited match in which the big city Giants were rated 5-3 favorites over the small town Packers marked the first radio broadcast of a Green Bay game by WTMJ in Milwaukee. The Packers came into the game a bit banged up, with quarterback Red Dunn halfback Eddie Kotal and end Dick O’Donnell all out. In fact, 10 Packers would play the entire 60 minutes, with only guard Jim Bowdoin having to leave in the last minute due to an injury. The dark footage of the game that exists reveals the Packers usually in a balanced line and running from the Notre Dame Box, with some snaps going directly to the quarterback and some to the halfback. On defense, Green Bay lined up both in seven- and six-man lines, in which Cal Hubbard roamed freely. New York’s offense ran out of a mix of single wing and punt formations with Friedman and Tiny Feather taking most of the deep snaps. Defensively, Steve Owen claims he lobbied Andrew to play a six-man line against Green Bay, but they did so only for the first play.

Early in the first quarter, Johnny Blood recovered a Giant fumble on a punt at the New York 35. Eight plays later, on fourth and goal from the six, Bo Molenda tossed a touchdown pass to Herdis McCrary and then converted the extra point. New York struck back quickly on a 65-yard pass play from Friedman to Ray Flaherty that carried to the Green Bay 10. Two plays later, though, Blood intercepted a Friedman pass at the goal line to stop the threat. Both teams moved the ball some in the first half, but without points. The half ended with Friedman intercepting a pass by Lewellen at the Giants’ three.

The first time the Giants got the ball in the second half they drove 66 yards for a touchdown. A 25-yard completion from Tony Plansky to Tiny Feather and a 16-yard touchdown pass from Friedman to Plansky highlighted the drive. The extra point was missed, so Green Bay still led 7-6. From that point on, New York lost 19 yards on its final four possessions, while the Packers scored again after Lewellen faked a punt and threw a 30-yard completion into Giant territory. The touchdown came 11 plays later on a one-yard buck by Molenda making the score 14-6. Two plays later, Jug Earpe picked off Friedman at the New York 37, and 12-play drive resulted in a Blood run for the final score in the 20-6 Packer victory. The Giants ran the ball 35 times for 46 yards and completed five of 14 passes for 157 yards; Green Bay ran 43 times for 117 yards and completed six of 12 passes for 105. Lewellen averaged 50 yards per punt in contrast to the Giants 39-yard average. It was the only loss either team would suffer all year. Green Bay won the title two weeks later.

The 1930 season again pitted the Giants and the Packers as favorites for the flag. The teams first met on October 5 in Green Bay, and the Packers triumphed again in a close contest. A 70-yard touchdown pass from Red Dunn to Johnny Blood in the fourth quarter proved the winning score in the 14-7 game. The Packers remained undefeated until losing to the Cardinals on November 16, one week before the rematch with New York at the Polo Grounds. The now 8-1 Packers were in the sights of the 10-2 Giants. In another hard fought battle between the NFL’s two heavyweights on November 23, the Giants prevailed in a game highlighted by a 91-yard run by halfback Hap Moran. The Giants .846 winning percentage (the determinant of the championship) now outdistanced that of the .800 Packers and put the New Yorkers in first place. It was the high point of LeRoy Andrew’s coaching career. However, just one week later, the Packers would be two games ahead of the Giants.

The following Thursday, Thanksgiving, the Packers beat Frankford while the Giants lost to Ken Strong (who could have been a Giant) and the Staten Island Stapletons. On Sunday November 30, Green Bay whipped Staten Island by 30 points, while New York lost to Brooklyn. The Packers were now 10-2, with the Giants in second place at 11-4. Friedman had an injured leg and did not play in the loss to Brooklyn. He did not play a week later in a win over Frankford, either, and that spelled the end for Andrew in New York.

According to Giants’ historian Barry Gottehrer, Friedman and Owen went to the Mara and complained that their coach was so obsessed with facing Knute Rockne in an upcoming exhibition game against a team of Notre Dame All-Stars that Andrew was out of control. Friedman himself would repeat that story in later years. However, the thought of the rough and tough Andrew going to pieces over an upcoming charity exhibition while his team was chasing an NFL title seems ridiculous. A small news item on December 8 indicates that Andrew was fired as coach and that Friedman and Owen would finish the season as co-coaches.  At that point, the Giants had already won their final game over Brooklyn to end up in second with a 13-4 record. When the change became effective is not clear, but Gottehrer contends it was the morning after the Frankford game, but then he has the Brooklyn game a week after Frankford rather than the next day as it occurred.

A more important factor in Andrew’s firing was alluded to by Gottehrer immediately after he floats the Rockne story, “When the Giants returned to their dressing room trailing Frankford, 6-0, Andrews [sic] started to berate his players, threatening fines and even firings. He made considerable noise but little sense, and suddenly he turned to Friedman, who, with Cagle, had been held out of the game because of injuries, ‘And you, Friedman,’ Andrews shouted, ‘can lose your money just like anyone else.’” While Gottehrer’s point is that Andrew was frazzled and out of control, one could say that Andrew was trying to treat all his players equally.

Dal Andrew agrees that the above story sounds like his father. “Team morale and discipline held together quite well for the first year, but things started to come apart in 1930 with regard to discipline – players not staying in shape, players not making it to practice to the point where in one game one of the players never even showed up for the ball game. Dad, in the tradition of [his role as] coach and general manager, said, ‘OK, you don’t get a check this week.’ The Maras did not back him up.” He added, “I remember Dad expressing sensitivity about All-Stars and prima donnas on the team.”

nclbandrew  ncclambeau

1929jblood  1929jearpe

1929vlewellen  1929rdunn

Custom cards all colorized.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #82

Guard Ed Bell was the first Packer to don 82, and he wore it from 1947-49. Since that time it has been worn by a fullback, two defensive ends, six tight ends and 18 wide receivers.

FB: Jack Cloud (1950-51).

DE: Jim Temp (1957-60) and Lionel Aldridge (1964-71).

TE: Jan Barrett (1963), Paul Coffman (1978-85), Reggie Johnson (1994), Ben Steele (2004-05), Ryan Taylor (2011-14) and Richard Rodgers (2015-17).

WR: Gerald Tinker (1975), Keith Hartwig (1977), Mike Moffett (1986), Keith Paskett (1987),  Derrick Harden (1987r), Scott Bolton (1988), Erik Affholter (1991), Sanjay Beach (1992), Mark Ingram (1995), Don Beebe (1996-97), Brian Manning (1998), Desmond Howard (1999), Charles Jordan (1999), Charles Lee (2000-01), Taco Wallace (2005), Rod Gardner (2005), Ruvell Martin (2006-08) and J’Mon Moore (2018).

Lionel Aldridge and Paul Coffman both wore 82 for eight seasons, and both are members of the team’s hall of fame. One other notable is Jim Temp, a Wisconsin grad who spent four years on the field in Gren Bay and several years on the team’s Board of Directors. The longest gaps of non-service were from 1952-56 and 1972-74.

1949lebell  1951bjcloud2

1959tjtemp2  1965plaldridge4

1975tgtinker  1984tpcoffman

1991teaffholter  1995mingram

1997dbeebe  2000clee

Custom cards of Bell, Cloud, Aldridge and Affholter are colorized.

Not to Be Slighted

June 23 is a birthday shared by two 1990s Packers of slight build: Robert Brooks who turns 49 and Roell Preston who turns 47. Mississippi’s Roell Preston had a very short, spectacular and frustrating career in Green and Gold after he was picked up from the Falcons in 1997. In less than two seasons as a Packer – one of which earned him All-Pro notice – Preston returned two kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns and racked up the third best kick return average in team history. However, he fumbled seven times in 17 games. That and his slight 5’10” 185-pound build got him cut in 1999.

Robert Brooks was a nifty receiver who was popular for his toughness and positive winning attitude; he did not shy from any challenge. Twice Brooks replaced the talented Sterling Sharpe as his team’s leading receiver, first at the University of South Carolina and second with the Packers following Sharpe’s career-ending injury. The slim 6-foot 180-pound Brooks was a third round draft pick in 1992 and spent his first two seasons primarily as an effective return man. In 1994, he earned the starting slot opposite Sharpe and caught 58 passes to Sharpe’s 94 and began to popularize the Lambeau Leap that Leroy Butler had inaugurated the year before. Coach Mike Holmgren said at the time, “I’d always prefer a little bigger receiver because we ask them to block a lot, but Robert has a bright future in my opinion.”

Without Sharpe in 1995, Brett Favre turned his attention more to Brooks, and Robert grabbed 102 passes for 1,497 yards and 13 touchdowns. That would prove to be his greatest season. The following year he tore both the ACL and MCL in his knee while blocking during week seven and thus missed the Packers’ Super Bowl victory over the Patriots that year. Still, he was ready to return on opening day in 1997, a year in which he and Antonio Freeman became the first pair of Packers to gain 1,000 yards receiving in the same season. In the subsequent offseason, Brooks needed back surgery, and 1998 was his final season in Green Bay.

Gil Haskell, his position coach, once said of Brooks, “He’s got good hands, good speed and great feel once he has the ball in the secondary.” Add to that a big heart, but ultimately size is significant in a game as physical as football, and that limited his career.

1992rbrooks  1993rbrooks

1994rbrooks  1998rpreston

Custom cards in Fleer and Topps styles.

Packers by the Numbers Update: #81

81 was first worn on opening day 1952 against the Bears by veteran defensive end Ed Berrang. One week later, Berrang was waived after just one game as a Packer in favor of newly-acquired Bear end Jim Keane who took Ed’s roster slot and jersey. Prior to the arrival of Vince Lombardi, the number was worn by one more receiver and three more defensive ends. Since then, it has been worn by seven tight ends and 12 wide receivers.

DE: Ed Berrang (1952), Gene Knutson (1954, 1956), Pat O’Donahue (1955) and Carlton Massey (1957-58).

TE: Marv Fleming (1963-69), Rich McGeorge (1970-78), Gary Lewis (1981-84), Dan Ross (1986), Craig Jay (1987r), Tyrone Davis (1997-02) and Andrew Quarless (2010-11, 2013-15).

WR: Jim Keane (1952), Clive Rush (1953), A.D. Williams (1959), Lee Folkins (1961), Lee Morris (1987), Perry Kemp (1988-91), Corey Harris (1992), Shawn Collins (1993), Anthony Morgan (1993-95), Desmond Howard (1996), Chris Jackson (2003), Andrae Thurman (2004-05), Koren Robinson (2006-07), Geronimo Allison (2016-18).

Of the 25 men who wore 81 in Green Bay, Marv Fleming is the only member of the team’s hall of fame. Rich McGeorge wore the number the longest, a nine-year tenure. The number remains in near constant use, with the longest gaps without a Packer in 81 being just two years (1979-80 and 2008-09). The number was also worn by a Super Bowl MVP, Desmond Howard in 1996.

1952beberrang2  1953bcrush2

1955tpodonahue  1958tcmassey2

1961tlfolkins3  1963tmfleming6

1978trmcgeorge  1981tglewis

1990tpkemp  1993amorgan2

1996dhoward  1997tdavis

Custom cards of Berrang, Rush, O’Donahue and McGeorge are colorized.


Yesterday, Mike Holmgren turned 71. Packer GM Ron Wolf wrote of his coach Mike Holmgren in The Packer Way, “He fills a room with a presence that you can’t manufacture. He has that Bill Walsh type of confidence where you feel he just knows what he does is right…His personality was far different from Bill Walsh’s – he’s much more outgoing and loquacious – but he had the same cockiness.” For his part, Walsh told David Harris in The Genius, “Mike and I exchanged openly and he had a better feel for football than anyone I knew. It wasn’t difficult to hire him. He was obviously the man.”

For someone with such obvious qualities, it took a long while for Mike Holmgren to get noticed. The 6’5” San Francisco native was one of the top quarterbacks in California in high school and attended Southern California at the same time as O.J. Simpson, but watched from the sidelines as the backup to quarterback Steve Sogge for two years and then to Jimmy Jones as a senior in 1969. Still, Mike was drafted in the eighth round by the Cardinals in 1970. After washing out of training camp with both the Cards and Jets, though, Holmgren tried selling real estate and cars during 1970. In 1971, he took an assistant coaching job at his alma mater, Lincoln High School in San Francisco. Throughout the decade of the 1970s, Mike coached at three different California high schools before moving up to San Francisco State in 1981 as an assistant coach. One year later, he was hired as quarterbacks coach at pass-happy BYU where he tutored Steve Young and Robbie Bosco — as well as a studious offensive tackle named Andy Reid — over the next four years. That brought Mike to Bill Walsh’s attention, and Bill hired him as quarterbacks coach with the 49ers in 1986.

In San Francisco, Holmgren learned the West Coast Offense from the master and coached two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Joe Montana and Steve Young. In particular, Mike developed and polished Young, his BYU confederate, and Young appreciated it. He told Brad Adler in Coaching Matters, “Mike is one of the best coaches ever, because he understands people. He can sit down and have a conversation with somebody and know what kind of football player they are.” Holmgren won his first Super Bowl ring as the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach in Walsh’s last year, 1988. When George Seifert succeeded Walsh, he promoted Mike to offensive coordinator. Mike won a second ring that year and began to be mentioned in connection with NFL coaching vacancies. Holmgren remained in San Francisco until Ron Wolf offered him the Packers job in 1992.

At that time, Green Bay had recorded just four winning seasons in the 25 years since Vince Lombardi retired from coaching the team, and there was growing doubt of the continued viability of the franchise in the modern NFL. Wolf and Holmgren turned that perception and attitude completely around to the point that the Packers have had just two losing seasons in the 19 years since 1992. The excellence established by Wolf and Holmgren has continued on long since they both left Wisconsin in the late 1990s. Wolf made three critical moves in transforming the Packers: hiring Holmgren in 1992, trading for Brett Favre the same year and signing Reggie White as a free agent in 1993. Holmgren took the pieces Wolf was supplying and put together a winning team in his first year. While Favre was raw and undisciplined, Mike worked with him and transformed Brett into a Hall of Fame quarterback. Holmgren’s Packers advanced a new step almost every year — a winning team in 1992, the playoffs in 1993, 11 wins and the NFC championship game in 1995, 13 wins and a Super Bowl win in 1996, 13 wins and a repeat Super Bowl trip in 1997. However, Green Bay was upset by Denver in that second Super Bowl appearance largely because Holmgren refused to adjust to the Broncos extensive blitz scheme, and it was a great missed opportunity — the chance to mark the team as something truly special. Green Bay slipped back to 11 wins in 1998, and Holmgren made it clear he wanted more responsibility for obtaining the players.

With his Packers’ contract up, Mike signed with Seattle as head coach and general manager in 1999. After four years holding both jobs, though, Holmgren’s record in Seattle was 31-33 – the same achieved by previous Seahawks’ coach Dennis Erickson. At that point, owner Paul Allen took away Holmgren’s GM responsibilities, leaving him to concentrate fully on coaching. The team went 51-29 over the next five years, including five straight trips to the playoffs and one to the Super Bowl. The Seahawks were led by former Packers’ backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, whom Holmgren had obtained in 2001 and molded into an NFL quarterback. In 2008, Mike turned 60 and announced he would not coach beyond the end of his contract that year; defensive coach Jim Mora Jr. was named as his successor. Predictably, Holmgren’s lame duck year was a 4-12 disappointment. After one year out of the game, Mike rekindled his competitive fire and returned in 2010 as the team president in Cleveland, trying to turn around another sorry franchise, but again failed in the front office.

Above all, Holmgren as coach was known as a teacher who got the most out of his players and coaches and made them better in turn. Indeed, eight of Mike’s assistants in Green Bay and Seattle became NFL coaches themselves. Holmgren’s accomplishments were substantial. He helped the West Coast Offense evolve in San Francisco, Green Bay and Seattle, trained three Hall of Fame quarterbacks and took two different downtrodden franchises to the Super Bowl.

(Adapted from NFL Head Coaches.)

1951tmholmgren  ncmholmgren

1992mholmgren  1998mholmgren

College custom card is colorized.

Packers by the Number Update: #80

80 was first worn by end Ed Frutig in 1945 and has been primarily an end’s number ever since. Frutig was followed in the Lambeau era by two backs–Herman Rohrig from 1946-47 and Fred Provo in 1948.

In the modern era, the number has been worn by one runner, one punter and 18 receivers.

RB: Breezy Reid (1950-51).

P: Dick Deschaine (1955-57).

E/WR/TE: Carlton Elliott (1952, 1954), Steve Meilinger (1958, 1960), Gary Barnes (1962), Bob Long (1964-67), Bucky Pope (1968), Jack Clancy (1970), Barry Smith (1973-75), Don Zimmerman (1976), James Lofton (1978-86), Frankie Neal (1987), Clint Didier (1988-89), Jackie Harris (1990-93), Charles Jordan (1994-95), Derrick Mayes (1996-98), Donald Driver (1999-2012), Justin Perillo (2014-16), Martellus Bennett (2017) and Jimmy Graham (2018).

The longest gap in which the number was not worn in Green Bay was just two years from 1971-72. Hall of Famer James Lofton is the greatest Packer to wear the number, but the team’s all-time leading receiver, Donal Driver, also wore 80 proudly. Draft bust Barry Smith and quitter Martellus Bennett are not recalled so fondly.

1945efrutig2  1946hrohrig

1948bfprovo2  1950bbreid2

1955bddeschaine3  1960fsmeilinger

1962pgbarnes2  1964pblong3

1974tbarrysmith  1978tjlofton

1991tjharris  2000ddriver

First five custom cards, plus Barnes, are colorized.

Vince Lombardi: 6/11/1913-9/3/1970

It stands to reason that a coach who had the championship trophy of his sport named after himself would have to be a great coach, maybe even the greatest of all. That is where we must begin with Vince Lombardi whose namesake, the Vince Lombardi Trophy, is given to each year’s Super Bowl champion. Indeed, Lombardi had a .673 winning percentage coaching against fellow Hall of Fame coaches; only John Madden’s has a better head-to-head record at .691. Lombardi’s overall winning percentage of .740, though, tops all other coaches, including Madden’s .731. Most important of all are those five NFL championships that Vince packed into a seven-year stretch. That separates him from everyone.

Lombardi was born in Brooklyn and played football at Fordham under Sleepy Jim Crowley from 1933-1936 as a 5’8” 180-pound guard. Vince was one of the famous Seven Blocks of Granite line that gave up just 26 points in his senior year. In the next two years, Lombardi played some semipro football with the Brooklyn Eagles and the Wilmington Clippers and attended law school for one semester before dropping out. In 1939, Vince took a job teaching science and coaching sports for St. Cecilia’s High School in New Jersey, where he introduced the T formation. In the eight years from 1939-1946, Lombardi drove tiny St. Cecilia’s to six state championships and won 36 straight games at one point. In 1947, he returned to his alma mater as the freshman football coach for one year until he was offered a chance to join Red Blaik’s staff at West Point. Lombardi spent six years under the revered Blaik at Army with the Cadets going 38-13-3 despite the Honor Code scandal that decimated the team in 1951. Under Blaik, Lombardi learned to focus primarily on the handful of things you do the very best and try to hone them to perfection.

In 1954, Lombardi moved up to the NFL when fellow Fordham alumnus Wellington Mara helped bring him to the Giants as the team’s offensive coach under new head coach Jim Lee Howell. Howell preferred to delegate responsibilities to his coaches, which works very well indeed if you have Vince Lombardi coaching your offense and Tom Landry running your defense. This group led the Giants to an NFL championship in 1956 and back to the title game in 1958, when the Giants fell to Johnny Unitas’ Colts in Sudden Death in Vince’s last game for New York. With the Giants, Vince joined a veteran team and had to learn how to communicate with professionals. At first, he tried to force plays on them he thought would work like the Wing T quarterback option, but soon found that grizzled quarterback Charlie Conerly had no interest in running that play and getting creamed by large defensive linemen. Lombardi adjusted his offense and won the respect of his players in New York.

In 1959, he took over the 1-10-1 Green Bay Packers, a team that had not had a winning season since 1947. He told the New York Times, “I’ll take the Giant offense with me and use it with the Packers as personnel permits.” As it turned out, Green Bay had much more talent than was evident, but the team needed direction and a workable system. Lombardi provided that. In building the Packers’ offense, Vince only needed to add guard Fuzzy Thurston off the scrap heap and receiver Boyd Dowler from the draft to the existing players; the five Packer Hall of Fame offensive players were already on the roster. The defense wasn’t so complete, but Lombardi quickly changed that. At the time, only Vince and Cleveland’s Paul Brown were both coach and GM of their teams in the NFL, so Lombardi had complete freedom to improve Green Bay. From Cleveland, he acquired three-fourths of his defensive line in trades, including Hall of Famers Willie Davis and Henry Jordan. He already had four fine linebackers, including Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke, and by bringing in veteran free safety Emlen Tunnell from the Giants, his secondary was decent. Later he would add free agent Willie Wood at safety and cornerbacks Herb Adderley and Bob Jeter through the draft. Wood and Adderley would be Hall of Famers.

Thus while Lombardi added some talent, his major upgrade was in coaching. He once noted, “Coaches who can outline plays on a blackboard are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their players and motivate them.” He told his players, “One can never achieve perfection, but in chasing perfection, one can achieve excellence.” He insisted on that pursuit of excellence through repetition and practice. In another of his sayings, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time.” The offensive system he installed was, on the surface, as simple as possible, and stood in sharp contrast in the 1960s to Tom Landry’s shifting, multi-set passing offense in Dallas. His view was that football was in essence blocking and tackling, and his offense was run-based, featuring fewer plays than most teams ran.  The complexity was in the multiplicity of options possible off of each basic play.  The line took the defenders in the direction they wanted to go, using Lombardi’s “option blocking.”  The running backs then had to read where the hole opened up and cut back into it. Run to Daylight was the title of Lombardi’s own football book, and his teams ran 12% more than the league average. On pass plays, receivers were expected to read the defense and break off their routes accordingly.

The key to the whole offense was the Power Sweep; it was the lead play that every opponent knew they had to stop. Lombardi told George Flynn for Vince Lombardi on Football, “There is nothing spectacular about it, it’s just a yard gainer.  But on that sideline when the sweep starts to develop, you can hear those linebackers and defensive backs yelling, ‘Sweep! Sweep!’ and almost see their eyes pop as those guards turn upfield after them.  But maybe it’s my number 1 play because it requires all 11 men to play as one to make it succeed, and that’s what ‘team’ means.” The Packers practiced the play thousands of times and would run it repeatedly in each game.

The play itself dated to the single wing era of Lombardi’s college days and owed a lot to the power attack of Jock Sutherland. Lombardi simply updated it for modern football. As with everything else about him, the key was its sophisticated simplicity. Packer players had to be intelligent because each play presented a great many possible options for each player depending on what the defense was doing. In the passing game, not only did quarterback Bart Starr read the defense, but the wide receivers had to read coverages as well and could change their routes in response. The blocking scheme of the Packers was known as option blocking, i.e., take the defensive man in the direction he is leaning. The hole for the runner may open in a different spot than where the play is planned to go ostensibly, so the runner must find the hole, make the right cut, and “run to daylight” as Lombardi phrased it. The sweep itself could be run to either side, and while the sweep was designed to go around the end, the runner would cut back inside if that was where the hole was.  The ability of halfback Paul Hornung to throw an accurate pass made the play that much more effective; it was one more option the defense had to defend against.  They couldn’t come up too fast or Hornung would throw the ball over their heads.  Then, once the defense got too comfortable defending the sweep, the Packers would hit them with the “sucker” or influence play which looked like a sweep but was actually a fake and was run as a slant play up the middle.

With this offense, Green Bay twice led the league in scoring and four times were in the top two. On defense, the Packers allowed the fewest points in the NFL three times and eight times in nine years finished in the top three. Beyond all that, Lombardi’s teams played nearly error free and six times finished on the top three in turnover differential. What that led to were title game appearances from 1960-1962 with championships in 1961 and 1962. In 1963, the team went 11-2-1 but fell short in its quest for a three-peat by losing twice to the Bears who finished 11-1-2. Lombardi’s men started a new run in 1965, won the first Super Bowl after the 1966 season and went for the three-peat a second time in 1967. Although the team was aging fast, they put together one last playoff run for the old man culminating with the legendary Ice Bowl and won Super Bowl II going away for their third straight title.

Lombardi retired as coach soon after, but the strain of watching the team lose without being able to do anything about it got to Vince. He resigned as general manager in 1969 and took over the Washington Redskins who had not had a winning season since 1955. Washington did not have the store of untapped talent that Green Bay had in 1959. Lombardi had to build a running game from scratch with rookie late round draft pick Larry Brown and trade acquisition Charley Harraway. All in all, Vince turned over half the roster in 1969, brought in nine new starters and led the Redskins to a 7-5-2 record. In 1970, though, he was diagnosed with cancer and died during training camp. It’s interesting to speculate how well Lombardi would have done in Washington, but it’s almost certain that it would have been a step down from Green Bay. Even if he would have had as much success as George Allen had with the Redskins from 1971-1977 — a .691 winning percentage, five postseason trips, one Super Bowl appearance, but no championships – that would have been a downgrade for Lombardi and his pristine reputation.

With his death, Lombardi’s career consisted almost solely of his spectacular run in Green Bay. Because of that success, there have probably been more poor imitations by Lombardi poseurs at all levels of football than any other coach. Coaches who think they are motivating their players by screaming at them miss the humanity and the magnetism of Lombardi. While there have been many great coaches such as Paul Brown, Don Shula, George Halas and Joe Gibbs, there have been very few with anything like the charisma of Lombardi. Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells and John Madden are three who come to mind, but all pale in comparison to Vince who is still quoted regularly in pop culture, who was featured in a popular series of Nike ads in the 1990s, 25 years after his death, and who was the subject of a sold out Broadway show in 2010, 40 years after his death. Among football coaches, there will never be another Vince Lombardi.

(Adapted from NFL Head Coaches.)

1965tvlombardi a  1965tvlombardi m

1965tvlombardi h  mayolombardi2

1956vlombardi  1969vlombardi

First two custom cards are colorized.