Lombardi family has shot at another NFL title
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
Vince Lombardi died in 1970, and Joe was born the following
year. The grandson actually looks more like Brunell than the old
“My dad and I look alike,” Joe said, “but we keep getting a
little less Italian-looking as the generations go on.”
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
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,”
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
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.
That’s fine with the grandson, who said he’s not necessarily
driven to become a head coach.
“I’m sure I’ll get the bug to do that one day, but right now
it’s not something that looks like a whole lot of fun to me,” he
said. “A lot of times you look at head coaches, and it’s player
discipline and the media and a lot of things that you didn’t get
into coaching to do – too far away from the field and getting your
hands dirty with the players.”
Lombardi’s in his third season with the Saints and his first as
quarterbacks coach, drawing up Xs and Os for the NFL’s
highest-scoring offense. Drew Brees led the league in touchdown
passes this season and set a record with his efficiency rating, but
Lombardi’s not taking credit.
“Drew Brees became Drew Brees before I was ever associated with
him,” Lombardi said. “You’ve got to make sure you check your ego
and know this guy is going to do just fine without your help.”
Lombardi’s primary job is to help develop the game plan and
prepare Brees for each opponent. On game day, Lombardi suggests
adjustments from his seat in the press box.
“His ability to decipher what’s happening and relay that
information down is really vital for what we’re trying to
accomplish,” Brees said. “Joe has stepped in and done a great job
as quarterbacks coach, and I’m glad to have him.”
“He’s very knowledgeable,” Brunell said. “He gets us ready to
play as far as game-planning and telling us what to expect, what we
plan on doing, our strategies, what plays we think are going to
work and breaking down defenses.”
Vince Lombardi had the same skills and was an offensive
coordinator for the New York Giants before becoming the Packers’
coach. Joe Lombardi’s lone memento from his grandfather is a call
sheet listing plays in Vince’s handwriting for a Giants game.
“Sept. 30, 1956, against the 49ers,” Joe said. “I’ve got it
hanging in my office.”
The other Saints assistant coaches have teased Lombardi this
week about all the attention he’s receiving because of his
bloodlines. He responds by telling them about his other
grandfather, the late Cy Butz of Minot, N.D.
Butz was a successful beer distributor, but no trophies are
named for him.