Lombardi Remains Icon at Fordham

Super Bowl week returns the focus to Vince Lombardi, who played and coached in the Bronx before becoming a sporting legend during nine incredible seasons in Green Bay.

Super Bowl week is always an exhilarating time for those associated with Fordham University, particularly in athletics and the sporting alumni. For the NFL's championship trophy, of course, bears the name of Fordham's most distinguished alumnus in sports — the iconic football coach Vince Lombardi. So, the first Sunday in February takes on special meaning and significance for all those who consider themselves Fordham Rams.

When that prestigious piece of hardware is hoisted aloft by the winners in Miami on Feb. 7, we in The Bronx recall the bygone days of Lombardi.

A favorite son of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, Lombardi went to Fordham on a football scholarship to play guard for coach Jim Crowley in 1933. The two enjoyed great success built around Lombardi and the Seven Blocks of Granite — the nickname for Fordham's dominant offensive line. Fordham began to gain national attention in 1935, the Rams finished 6-1-2 and ranked No. 11 in the United Press Sports Writers Poll conducted at the end of the season.

In 1936, Lombardi's senior season, the team got off to a 5-0-2 start and had hopes of playing in the Rose Bowl. However, the team suffered a devastating 7-6 to NYU and finished the season ranked 15th in the first AP poll and out of bowl contention.

"(Lombardi) always said that was his most bitter defeat," Fordham director of athletics Frank McLaughlin said.

After his playing days at Fordham, Lombardi spent two years playing semi-professional football before going into coaching. He began as an assistant at St. Cecilia in 1938, a high school in Englewood, N.J. Lombardi stayed at St. Cecilia for eight seasons, the last five as the head coach, before heading back to Fordham to coach the freshman football and basketball teams. After one season, Lombardi became an assistant football coach for the varsity team.

"(Lombardi) always wanted to coach Fordham," McLaughlin said. "We already had a successful coach so we had to stick by him and Lombardi had to leave."

However, Lombardi only stayed for one more season before heading off to West Point to coach the U.S. Military Academy's offensive line in 1949. Lombardi stayed for five seasons and had a very successful run despite the program going through a cadet cheating scandal.

Lombardi's success led to a job as the offensive coordinator in the NFL for the New York Giants in 1954. Under Lombardi, defensive coordinator Tom Landry and coach Jim Lee Howell, the Giants became NFL champions in 1956.

Lombardi, of course, received his greatest acclaim as coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers, a position he accepted in 1959. Despite going 1-10-1 in 1958, Lombardi brought immediate results to Green Bay with a 7-5 record in 1959. The following season, Lombardi brought the Packers to the championship; however, the Packers were defeated by the Philadelphia Eagles 17-13, a loss which would go down as Lombardi's only postseason loss.

Lombardi came back to win back-to-back championships in 1961 and 1962. Two years later, Lombardi began a string a three-straight NFL championships beginning in 1965. He capped the run with a win in the infamous Ice Bowl over the Dallas Cowboys, dubbed this because of the minus-13 temperature.

Lombardi stepped down after the 1967 season after five championships in nine seasons in Green Bay. He remained general manager for one season before returning to coaching with the Washington Redskins in 1969.

With a 7-5-2 season, Lombardi brought Washington its first winning season after a 14 losing ones. It was Lombardi's only season in Washington as he fell ill during the summer of 1970 and was diagnosed with colon cancer. Lombardi died in September at the age of 57.

Over the course of his career, Lombardi amassed a 96-34-6 record over 10 seasons and a 9-1 record in the playoffs. Lombardi was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

For Fordham, the Super Bowl brings many reminders of the glory days of Vince Lombardi. Lombardi's influence on professional football cannot be measured and it all began at Fordham — first as a player, and later as a coach. Lombardi put a lot of value into his days at Fordham and they had a strong influence on him.

"He always came back, he always loved Fordham," McLaughlin said. "He was very religious and was strongly influenced by the Jesuits."

Fordham remember s Lombardi in a variety of ways. The Lombardi Memorial Center is an athletic facility containing a gym and numerous playing courts. The Seven Blocks of Granite are also remembered with a monument outside of Jack Coffey Field.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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