Vince Lombardi never said, "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." Although that is the quote most often attributed to him, his actual words were: "Winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is." All his life, Lombardi made that effort.
The Brooklyn-born Lombardi (1913-1970) first entered the football limelight during the mid-1930s as a guard on Fordham University's famous "Seven Blocks of Granite" line. He didn't play in the NFL but went directly into coaching.
He built a sterling reputation as an assistant with several strong college teams and, in the 1950s, as the New York Giants' offensive coach under Jim Lee Howell.
Meanwhile, desperation had set in with the Green Bay Packers, who were at the lowest point in their history. In 1958, they managed to win only one game. Lombardi was hired as head coach and given complete control.
It was the first time he'd been head man other than of a high school team. Lombardi traded for such young players with potential as Willie Davis, changed quarterback flop Paul Hornung into a star running back, nurtured unheralded Bart Starr into a brilliant quarterback, and drove the team mercilessly.
Lombardi emphasized execution, blocking, and tackling rather than razzle-dazzle. Most important, he instilled in his players a willingness to "make the effort."
The results were instantaneous. His 1959 team won seven of 12 games. In 1960, Green Bay took its division title, but that was only the beginning.
Lombardi's Packers were NFL champions in 1961 and 1962. After two years of retooling, they won titles in 1965, 1966, and 1967. The latter two teams won the first two Super Bowls.
In 1969, the Washington Redskins, another team with a long losing habit, hired Lombardi to turn them around. He was well on his way to doing just that when he was fatally stricken with cancer before the 1970 season.
He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971. He is memorialized by the Lombardi Trophy, awarded to each year's Super Bowl winner.