Lombardi is last legend on the list

Attention Readers: This is the final installment in a series of columns analyzing additions to the Packers' prestigious retired numbers club. Have we missed anyone or missed the mark with any of the nominees? Let us know! Email suggestions and comments to lvmarran@aol.com. A future column will include a sampling of reader responses.

Vince Lombardi - namesake of symbols of excellence from the NFL's most sought after trophy to the address of the greatest venue in sports. Lombardi is synonymous with winning, with work ethic, and with the Green Bay Packers.

Shouldn't that merit a retired number? Lombardi's credentials are not in question. His statistical accomplishments as a coach are counted in championships as well as volumes of print from record books to biographies. His subjective impact on the team and the town is so deep that it cannot be accurately measured - but much of what the Packers are today can be traced back to the Lombardi Era.

Retiring a number for Lombardi seems automatic -- but there's a catch. Lombardi was a coach here, not a player, thus didn't wear a number in Green Bay. That doesn't stop us from pondering the possibilities.

The idea of enshrining Lombardi on the wall of retired numbers is modeled after Marquette University's tribute to the late Al McGuire. The great college hoops coach and the legendary Lombardi have a lot in common already. Both hailed from New York, both were devout Catholics, both committed their lives to their coaching careers, both were succeeded by their loyal but less successful assistants, and most importantly, both went out on top. As the seconds ticked down on Marquette's 1977 NCAA championship, the famous footage of an emotional McGuire documented his final moments as the Warriors' coach. Likewise, when jubilant players carried Lombardi off the field following his third consecutive championship and fifth overall in Green Bay, it was his final exit from the Packer sidelines. Neither the Warriors nor the Packers would have to see their legend fall.

Honoring Lombardi, who never played for the Packers, would be unique. Few coaches have numbers retired in their honor, and those who do typically have a connection as a player.

The Bears retired No. 7 for George Halas. He wore it as a player from 1920-29, but his lasting contribution to Chicago and the NFL came on the sidelines and behind the scenes as the founder of the Bears and one of the fathers of the league itself.

Other legendary coaches have been overlooked, whether or not they played the game. Mike Ditka was a standout tight end for the Bears from six seasons before returning as a coach and taking the Bears to a title. Not only is his No. 89 still in use, but it has been worn consecutively by 10 players ever since Ditka hung it up in 1966.

Nor has Dolphins' coach Don Shula been recognized in this particular way by Miami. The Dolphins are one of the only teams with fewer retired number than Green Bay, with just three: Bob Griese's 12, Dan Marino's 13, and Larry Csonka's 39. It should be pointed out that the Dolphins have had 47 fewer seasons then Green Bay from which to cull great players,

If the Packers decide to go this route with Lombardi, they'll have another decision to make. Which number does a team retire for someone who didn't wear one?

The possibilities are almost endless.

Green Bay could follow Marquette's lead and retire a championship year. For MU it was easy - 77 marks McGuire's only championship and technically can't be worn in the NCAA, which requires digits of 5 or lower for officiating purposes. If Green Bay did pick a number to commemorate a year for Lombardi, the team could choose from 61, honoring the first championship; 62 honoring the Packers' greatest single season during the Lombardi Era; 59 for Lombardi's first year here or 67 for his final championship and second Super Bowl. Sorry, 66 is already taken.

How about something more subtle? Maybe No. 9 would be a good choice, representing Lombardi's 9 seasons as head coach. Jim McMahon probably wouldn't mind. Maybe No. 5, for his championship total, but that would be confusing as 5 will always be associated with the Golden Boy, not the Golden Era.

None of those sound quite right.

My final wildcard nominee for a retired number, joining Jerry Kramer's No. 64, LeRoy Butler's 36 and William Henderson's 33 (and assuming Favre's No. 4) is ... No. 1.

No. 1 would be a fitting way to simultaneously commemorate both Lombardi, for Super Bowl I, and Curly Lambeau, to represent the Packers' founder and first coach. Lambeau also wore the number, among several others, during his nine seasons as a player.

Have we missed anyone or missed the mark with any of the nominees? Let us know! Email suggestions and comments to lvmarran@aol.com. A future column will include a sampling of reader responses.


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