January 28

This Day in History

Sports

Jan 28, 1959:

Vince Lombardi hired as Packers coach

On January 28, 1959, the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL) sign Vince Lombardi to a five-year contract as the team's coach and general manager.

The Brooklyn-born Lombardi played college football at Fordham University, earning a starting spot as a guard in the Fordham offensive line, dubbed the "Seven Blocks of Granite." A business major, Lombardi graduated cum laude in 1937. After working in finance and playing semi-pro football with Delaware's Wilmington Clippers, Lombardi took a teaching and coaching position at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, New Jersey, in 1939. From there he moved on to coaching positions at Fordham and West Point before joining the staff of the NFL's New York Giants as an assistant coach under Jim Lee Howell in 1954.

 

The deal with the Packers—a team that had finished with a 1-10-1 record the previous season—marked Lombardi's first head coaching position in the NFL. In his first season, Lombardi guided his team to a 7-5 record and a third-place finish in the Western Conference of the NFL. The following year, the Packers lost in the 1960 championship game to the Philadelphia Eagles, 17-13. Lombardi won his first championship ring in 1961, when Green Bay smashed the Giants 37-0; they repeated as champs the next year, again beating New York, 16-7. In addition to capturing three more NFL championships from 1965 to 1967, the Packers won both of the first two Super Bowls, in which the NFL champion faced the winner of the upstart American Football League (AFL). With the phenomenal play of his team, Lombardi literally became the face of professional football, gracing the cover of a December 1962 issue of TIME magazine under the headline "The Sport of the '60s."

 

The second Super Bowl, a win over the Oakland Raiders, marked Lombardi's last game with the Packers. In 1967, he announced his retirement, leaving with an overall coaching record in Green Bay of 98-30-4. Lombardi was unable to stay retired, however, and in 1969 he accepted the head coaching position for the Washington Redskins. True to form, he led the team to its first winning record in 14 years, bringing his overall professional coaching record to 105-35-6 by January 1970, without a single losing season.

 

Tragically, Lombardi was diagnosed with intestinal cancer that year and died in September 3, 1970, at the age of 57. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the following year. The Super Bowl trophy was subsequently renamed the Vince Lombardi Trophy, ensuring that Lombardi's name—and his legacy as the greatest football coach of the 20th century—will be remembered forever.

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