David Maraniss's excellent biography of Vince Lombardi reveals a man in touch with the average American, the story of a super achiever whose own struggles propelled him with increased conviction to drive others toward victory. Maraniss traces Lombardi's roots as a butcher's son growing up in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn. His passion for football exceeds his on field talent, but through grit and determination Lombardi obtained a scholarship to Fordham University in the Bronx and became one of the "Seven Blocks of Granite" at guard, helping bolster the line offensively and defensively. His innate coaching gifts were on display early as, according to Maraniss the least talented of his teammates on the Fordham line, he became the most inspirational. More talented teammates would listen to his criticism and react to his fiery exhortations to push onward toward perfection.
The Fordham school motto was "do or die" and Lombardi profited from the teachings of the Jesuit fathers at Fordham, instilling discipline within him and a sense of commitment. After coaching football and basketball at St. Cecilia's High School in Englewood, New Jersey, Lombardi then received an opportunity to become line coach at Army, where he sopped up gridiron knowledge from one of the game's all-time coaching masters, Colonel Earl "Red" Blaik. At Army he also became acquainted with General Douglas MacArthur, whose motto of "There is no substitute for victory" remained within him from that time thereafter, as did the Army motto of "God, honor and country."
Eventually Lombardi moved on to become offensive coordinator under Jim Lee Howell with the New York Giants. Another young up and coming coach, Tom Landry, assumed the defensive coordinator's role, comprising with Lombardi the most formidable one-two punch among assistants in National Football League history.
While Landry became famous by becoming the original coach of the expansion Dallas Cowboys, guiding them to greatness, Lombardi received first crack one year earlier in 1959 in an NFL head coaching status, becoming mentor of the hapless Green Bay Packers, thought by many to be on their way out of the NFL. In 1958, under Scooter McLean, the Packers were 1-10-1. The tenacious Lombardi brought his determined ways immediately to bear, finishing 7-5 in his astounding first season, then losing by an eyelash to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL championship game one year later. Not to be thwarted, in 1961 Lombardi won it all, romping at home over his old New York Giants' team in a 37-0 rout, then repeating the victory feat one year later in Yankee Stadium 16-7.
Green Bay was a small town consisting of uncomplicated people adhering to the traditional values. Lombardi was a no nonsense coach who disdained fancy formations and trick plays, focusing his attention on perfecting the basics, emphasizing execution.
This is a book that could be read and enjoyed by those interested in solid biography and not in football, and will be devoured by afficianados. Lombardi is presented in human terms, revealing him as someone with his own troubles. His devotion to his teams left less time at home than he would have desired. He fought with wife Marie often and struggled to find more time to spend with son Vince Jr. and daughter Susan. His relations with management and with the press were often less than cordial, and yet, in the final analysis, despite his imperfections, Lombardi emerges as a loving, caring individual to players, family and friends. He emerges as a giant, an overachiever determined to come as close as humanly possible to attaining perfection in his field, obtaining the maximal effort from his players.