MIAMI – With the NFL championship game barely 72 hours away, Coach Lombardi took a break from his team’s preparations to revisit the notion that winning is the only thing.
He also talked about Bart Starr and Jim Taylor, the need to play with pain, and the title trophy that bears his last name.
New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi will have a chance to hold that trophy for the first time Sunday night if his team beats the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl.
“Because of the history of that trophy and the history with our family, if we win, when I have time to reflect, it will be pretty neat,” Lombardi said Thursday.
He’s the grandson of Vince Lombardi, the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach who led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships in a seven-year span in the 1960s, including victories in the first two Super Bowls.
The trophy is named for him, and now the family has a shot at another title.
“It’s pretty cool,” Saints backup quarterback Mark Brunell said. “It never really comes up. Joe always downplays it a bit. But here we are trying to win a trophy with his last name on it.”
Vince Lombardi died in 1970, and Joe was born the following year. The grandson actually looks more like Brunell than the old Packers coach.
“My dad and I look alike, but we keep getting a little less Italian-looking as the generations go on,” Joe said.
Ties to the past are strong, though. Growing up, Lombardi read the books and heard the stories about his grandfather. He visited the Packers’ Hall of Fame, and he knows the stars from the 1960s teams, including Starr and Taylor.
As for a favorite Vince Lombardi story, Joe likes the one about his own father’s knee injury that sidelined him as a college freshman.
Vince arranged for an examination by the Packers’ doctor, who determined the injury wasn’t serious enough to curtail playing time.
Coach Lombardi then lectured his son for 45 minutes about the difference between hurting and being injured. The son was soon back on the field and winning a starting job.
“Kind of a typical story when you think of Vince Lombardi,” Joe said.
Then there’s the famous Lombardi quote: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Does the grandson agree?
“No,” he quickly responded before pausing. “I mean, yes. In this business, yeah. Because in this business, if you don’t win, you don’t have a job anymore.
“But I think he was misquoted or misinterpreted with that whole thing. I think his point was your goal is to win, but it’s the process you take in order to get there that’s important – doing everything in your control to put yourself in a position to win.”
Joe Lombardi played tight end at the Air Force Academy in the early 1990s, and he was out of school before deciding on a career in coaching. Despite his surname, there were dues to pay, and his stops included the University of Dayton, Virginia Military Institute, Bucknell, an XFL team and Mercyhurst (Pa.) College before he broke into the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006.
At 38, he’s in the Super Bowl spotlight this week but figures he’ll always work in the shadow of his grandfather.
“No matter how well I do, you’re never going to match what he did and who he was and the impact he had,” Lombardi said.