The Bronx—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 significance for all those who consider themselves Fordham Rams.
When the NFL’s most prestigious piece of hardware is hoisted aloft by the winners in Miami this Sunday, February 7, those at the Bronx institution of higher learning recall the bygone days of Lombardi, the five-time Super Bowl champion head coach of the Green Bay Packers.
“He always came back, Vince Lombardi always loved Fordham,” Fordham’s executive director of athletics Frank McLaughlin said. “He was very religious and was strongly influenced by the Jesuits.”
A favorite son of the Sheepshead Bay section of 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 when the Rams finished 6-1-2 and were 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 loss 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,” says McLaughlin.
After his playing days at Fordham, Lombardi spent two years playing semi-professional football before going into coaching. In 1938, he began as an assistant at St. Cecilia, a high school in Englewood, New Jersey. 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. “Fordham already had a successful coach, so the university stuck by him and Lombardi moved on.”
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.
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 Head Coach Jim Lee Howell, the Giants became NFL champions in 1956.
Lombardi received his greatest acclaim as Head Coach and General Manager of the Green Bay Packers, a position he accepted in 1959. Despite the Packers going 1-10-1 in 1958, Lombardi brought immediate results to Green Bay with a 7-5 record in 1959. The following season, Lombardi led 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 -13 degree 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. 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.
With John Cirillo, FCRH ‘78
“A leader must be able to direct people but he must also be able to make people willing to accept direction. The strength of a company or a team is in the will of the leaders. If the manager is weak-willed, the company will be poorly directed.” Vince Lombardi
“Fordham Hails Saints,” in The New York Post, “The Rumble”
“We will be pulling for New Orleans to win the Super Bowl so Joe Lombardi gets the chance to bring home the trophy named for his immortal grandfather and proud Fordham man Vince Lombardi,” said Fr. Joseph McShane, S.J., president of Fordham. “And after all, how can a Jesuit root against a team named the Saints? They will be in our prayers [this]morning.”
“Divine Help?” in The Advocate
Among the millions of people rooting for the Saints is the president of Fordham University, the Rev. Joseph McShane. Fordham is the alma mater of Vince Lombardi, the man whose name is on the Super Bowl trophy and who is the grandfather of Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi.