Lom­bardi changed Red­skins for­ever

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

The NFL Net­work did a spe­cial Wed­nes­day night on the year that Vince Lom­bardi coached the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins, and it was an im­por­tant pro­gram.

That one year Lom­bardi, af­ter coach­ing the Green Bay Pack­ers to six NFL cham­pi­onships, in­clud­ing the first two Su­per Bowl ti­tles, coached the Red­skins is truly when the fran­chise changed direc­tion.

Ge­orge Allen gets a lot of credit, right­fully so, for the cul­ture change he built within the or­ga­ni­za­tion — a pas­sion for win­ning — when he be­came coach in 1971.

But it was Lom­bardi who, af­ter 15 years with­out a win­ning sea­son, truly changed the cul­ture in that one un­for­get­table sea­son in 1969.

It was un­der Lom­bardi, who passed away in 1970 from can­cer at the age of 57, that los­ing went from the norm to un­ac­cept­able.

And as much as play­ers loved Allen, those who played for Lom­bardi in Wash­ing­ton that one sea­son have spo­ken of him in rev­er­en­tial tones.

“When Lom­bardi got here, it was like, “God has ar­rived.’ He was in charge of ev­ery room he walked into. He was like no one we had seen be­fore in Wash­ing­ton,” Sam Huff told me in an in­ter­view for my book, “Hail Vic­tory — An Oral His­tory of the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins.”

Huff had re­tired af­ter the 1967 sea­son, tired of the medi­ocrity, but when Lom­bardi was hired, he wanted to come back.

“I couldn’t take it any­more, what hap­pened to that foot­ball team,” Huff said. “I didn’t want to be part of that. I wound up on a flight with Lom­bardi. I said to him, ‘I’d still like to play.’ Lom­bardi asked me if I re­ally thought I could still play and I told him yes. He said, ‘I need you to play for me.’

“So we struck a deal for me to be a player-coach,” Huff said. “At the time, I wanted to be a coach. It was hard work, but it was quite an ex­pe­ri­ence for me to sit in meet­ings with Lom­bardi and see the man in ac­tion and learn all about him.”.

That, per­haps, is what is more re­mark­able about Lom­bardi. He was here for one year, and, while it was a win­ning record af­ter 15 years with­out one for the Red­skins, no one was hold­ing a pa­rade for their 7-5-1 sea­son. Yet the im­pact his very pres­ence seemed to have on grown men is ev­i­dent per­haps more so in that one sea­son in Wash­ing­ton than his en­tire ten­ure in Green Bay.

These grown men — NFL play­ers — got a minute with Lom­bardi, and it has lasted a life­time.

“It was great to play for Lom­bardi,” Hall of Fame line­backer Chris Han­burger told me. “I think most of us had a cer­tain amount of fear and cer­tainly re­spect for Lom­bardi.

You re­ally didn’t know what he would be like, other than what we had seen and read. And that was enough to put a lit­tle fear in you. But he was a won­der­ful hu­man be­ing. He had a good sense of hu­mor and could com­mu­ni­cate with the play­ers well.

“It was a plea­sure to play for him” Han­burger said. “I think he laid the foun­da­tion for the Red­skins that took place in later years, es­pe­cially for the play­ers who stayed here. I en­joyed be­ing around him.”

Not ev­ery­one in Wash­ing­ton was a fan. Center Len Hauss looks back on the year he played for Lom­bardi as one of his tough­est. “For me, I didn’t re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate his style of coach­ing,” he said. “I’m not say­ing he wasn’t a great coach. But I didn’t care for his meth­ods.”

But Hauss also be­lieved Lom­bardi’s great­ness tran­scended the foot­ball field. “Lom­bardi was a big in­flu­ence on the fran­chise,” he said. “He was an im­pact-type of per­son, and he made an im­pact on the or­ga­ni­za­tion. He was a great man. If he had been a writer, he would have been one of the best writ­ers. If he had been a car sales­man, he would have been the best at that, too.”

No one, per­haps, was as af­fected by the ar­rival of Lom­bardi than quar­ter­back Sonny Jur­gensen. What had first ap­peared to be an on­com­ing car wreck — Jur­gensen’s party life­style vs. Lom­bardi’s dis­ci­pline — be­came a mar­riage built on re­spect and de­sire for ex­cel­lence.

Jur­gensen flour­ished un­der Lom­bardi’s coach­ing. “He was a great leader.” Jur­gensen told me. “No­body came close to him. It was un­fair to have him around all the time. What an ad­van­tage you had. He turned the fran­chise around.”

Re­mem­ber that when you are talk­ing about the glory days of Ge­orge Allen and the Su­per Bowl era of Joe Gibbs.

In just one year, Vince Lom­bardi built that foun­da­tion.


Vince Lom­bardi coached the Red­skins to their first win­ning sea­son in 15 years in 1969.

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