Lombardi Trophy Means Excellence

Some of the Glory Years heroes talk about what Vince Lombardi meant to them on and off the field. "Whatever I achieved after football in some ways had a little bit of Lombardi in it," said Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis.

"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour – his greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear – is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious." - Vince Lombardi

It stands 22 inches tall and weighs 7 pounds. Made entirely of sterling silver, it depicts a regulation-size NFL football in the kicking position. It takes about four months and 72 man-hours to create. Its market value is $50,000.

But ask any player whose team has one and they'll tell you it's priceless.

When the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers tee it up for Super Bowl XLV, they'll be playing for the right to take home this most valuable of NFL awards, the Vince Lombardi Trophy. It will signify that they are the NFL champions, the very best this proud game has to offer. Unfortunately, for the losing team, it will mean a swift fade into the shadows of history and regrets for what might have been.

Nobody remembers the losers. Vincent Thomas Lombardi would have had it no other way.

"It was first place or nothing," recalled Packers linebacker great Dave Robinson. "You come in first or you lose. There's no such thing as second place and every man felt that way. Either you win it or you lose it and that's it. Vince used to say, ‘The minute you accept second place, it's going to be easier to accept third. The nanosecond you accept third place, you can accept fourth.'"

The trophy originally was inscribed with the words "World Professional Football Championship" and bore the logos of both the National Football League and the American Football League. After years of fighting and bidding wars over players, the two leagues finally agreed to merge in 1970 and to play the title game we now call the Super Bowl.

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Fittingly, Lombardi's Packers decisively won the first two Super Bowls following the 1966 and 1967 seasons. When he passed away from cancer in 1970, the trophy was renamed in his honor. The trophy goes much deeper than merely signifying the winner of the big game and the big money. It is a lasting symbol of the values and life qualities Lombardi instilled in his players and in virtually everyone who became associated with him.

"He always said, ‘Pride and excellence.' Simple as that," said receiver Gary Knafelc. "If you can't have pride in yourself you can't excel. Once you excel, the pride takes over even stronger. He knocked you in the head. This is what we're going to do. This is my belief and if you don't follow my belief you won't be here. He made you perform tasks that you felt were impossible. But then, after proving to yourself that you could perform those tasks you became embarrassed that you hadn't done it earlier."

"Whatever I achieved after football in some ways had a little bit of Lombardi in it," agreed Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis. "His whole notion about how you play this game will reflect the way you live the rest of your life. I cannot tell you how many times I thought about that. In times where things were a little bit tough, when times were troubling and you just simply said, ‘We've got to be equal to this challenge and, most of all, I've got to show the leadership.' I think I reached all the way back to Coach Lombardi for that."

Vince Lombardi used the game of football to teach men about the game of life. Winning games was not enough for the legendary coach. He wanted to mold his players into the best men, the most successful people they could possibly be, regardless of what they chose to do when their playing days were over.

"It occurred to me that it was great to be an exceptional football player," guard Jerry Kramer said. "That was good but wouldn't it be neat to be a better father? To be a better husband, to be a better brother, to be a better neighbor, a better member of your community, a better member of your nation?"

"I remember him in one of the early speeches talking about how lucky we were to be free," recalled offensive tackle Bob Skoronski. "Where do you hear that in this day and age? And he was talking about that and how important it was to work hard and what the results of it would be. Some of those things I had not even heard from my family. They were great things, they were patriotic things, loyal things."

When his men speak about Lombardi, they speak with reverence, love and total respect. He was a man among men and was arguably the greatest coach the NFL has ever seen. Undeniably, his legacy extends far beyond the game of football.

Former Packers and Miami Dolphins tight end Marv Fleming may have summed it up best.

"Everybody says, ‘What's the difference between Don Shula and Lombardi?' Shula was a great coach but Lombardi was a coach of life."

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Tom Andrews has covered the Packers since 1998. E-mail him at andrewst@charter.net

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