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

it.”

Vince Lombardi died in 1970, and Joe was born the following

year. The grandson actually looks more like Brunell than the old

Packers coach.

“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

time.

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,”

Joe said.

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

win.”

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.