Lombardi: Mental toughness evident

I heard Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films, once say that the Ice Bowl game was the epitome of all that Vince Lombardi and his Packer teams stood for. Under trying conditions, Green Bay drove down the field to defeat the Cowboys and capture their third straight NFL crown. Later, they defeated the Raiders in the Second Super Bowl to cap off the Lombardi Era.

I have long agreed with Mr. Sabol. My grandfather preached that mental toughness was essential to success and very few game situations could be more demanding than the game conditions of the Ice Bowl. The Packers showed why they were champions.

The current Packer team is also operating under adverse conditions. While not comparable to the negative temperatures and poor field conditions of what has been called the Greatest Game Ever Played, they are experiencing hard times. Many of the problems faced by the 2005 team are self generated and if they could have cut down on the penalties and turnovers in the first four games, the record would be different.

One thing that is hard to cut down on is injuries. Javon Walker, Bubba Franks, Ahman Green, Najeh Davenport, Mike Flanagan and Na'il Diggs are valuable players who have missed serious playing time due to injuries. All but Diggs and Davenport have been to the Pro Bowl. Chad Clifton is hobbled but gutted it out versus the Saints. Throw in the injury to Terrance Murphy, who had showed real promise in his limited playing time, and you could fill a hospital ward with injured Packers.

It would be easy to look at the injury report and lose all hope in this team, but I saw no evidence to indicate that anybody on the team gave it a second thought. At first thought, yes, but they accepted it and moved on. Beating the Saints on a nice sunny fall day is a long way from a NFL title victory in double digit negative degree weather, but it is still significant. Most folks had written this team off. They sat at number 30 in the NFL power rankings and at 0-4, there is no reason to really fault anyone for jumping off the bandwagon.

In spite of all the injuries and losses, the Packers did come out and rout the Saints and showed that they do possess a degree of mental toughness. It would have been easy to give up. They lined up with two new guys on the kick return team. Davenport was starting at tailback and Murphy was out. They ended the game with Tony Fisher and ReShard Lee at tailback. Bubba Franks was in for one play. Clifton could barely walk off the field, Scott Wells filled in nicely at center and David Martin, Donald Lee and Fisher all contributed to the victory. The defense, led by Grady Jackson, stuffed Deuce McAllister and scored twice. About the only thing that did not come up big was the return game.

It would have been easy to give up after starting 0-4. It would be easy to get defensive and circle the wagons and whine and complain about the injuries. Many a season has been sacrificed on the altar of injury. I would be surprised to see any other team that has suffered injuries to so many starters and four Pro Bowlers. Instead, the Pack decided to go out and play a football game. They did not turn over the ball and got five takeaways. They cut down on the penalties. They ran the ball when they had to. The defense is playing better than anyone ever thought they could. And Brett Favre was his usual self. He threw three touchdown passes and hit seven different receivers. His QB rating was 130.9 which is pretty good.

The most gratifying aspect of the game was that the Packers made few mistakes and when the Saints did make mistakes, they capitalized on it. It was as if all the bad breaks the team had so far this season, evened out a little. Without a proper mental attitude, none of this would have happened. Weak minded teams fold up and give up when they lose four in a row and suffer the injuries that have confronted Green Bay. Good teams, teams that possess mental toughness, overcome these setbacks and play as best as they can, no matter what the obstacles.

Mental toughness is essential to success and at least for the past five quarters, this Packer team showed me that they have it. Somewhere an old ball coach is smiling. He is smiling because he knows that talent levels in the NFL are pretty close and the breaks tend to even out over the course of the season. He knows that the team that is tougher mentally will come out on top and with the Vikings, who are the poster children for mental weakness on the schedule, things are looking up. The schedule is daunting and it will be difficult, but if they continue to play at this level, it can be done.

John Lombardi

Editor's note: John Lombardi is the grandson of legendary coach Vince Lombardi. John resides with his family in Green Bay . His football experience includes stints with two teams in the World League (now NFL Europe); in the scouting departments of the Cleveland Browns and Tennessee Titans; and graduate assistant coach and director of football operations at Vanderbilt. He will be contributing columns for PackerReport.com.

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