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 Peter Takes on History 

January 28, 1959

Are you really a cheesehead?

On the 28th of January, 1959 an ex-New Yorker, destined for greatness, took a job here in Wisconsin. He was a business major who graduated Cum Laude in 1937 from Fordham University and once said, "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser." And you can just hand over that cheesehead right now if you didn't recognize the author of that quote as the most famous Packer ever. Mr. Vince Lombardi.

The Packer’s had a won/loss record of 1, 10 and 1 the year before Lombardi was hired. In his first season as the team’s head coach he improved that record to 7 and 5. The following year the Packers made it to the championship game and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles – his only NFL playoff loss. But the following year, 1961, Lombardi won his first championship ring. That made Vince happy. So he did it again. The Pack repeated as champs the next year. In addition to capturing three more NFL championships from 1965 to 1967, the Packers won both of the first two Super Bowls.

Lombardi retired from the Packers and football in 1967 but it didn’t stick. He took a job with the Redskins in 1969 and, true to form, brought them their first winning season in 14 years. Lombardi died the following year on September 3, 1970, at the age of 57.

His record is his legacy

He pushed players hard. He had a deep technical understanding of the game and he had a way with words.

We all know he said, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.”

“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”

“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

“Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.”

“The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.”

“The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

“If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”

“Individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

“The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”

“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.”

“We didn’t lose the game; we just ran out of time.”

“Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while… you don’t do things right once in a while… you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately so is losing.”

He did not say, “Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.” That was UCLA coach Red Saunders.

Lombardi did utter a variation of that quote. "Winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is."

He also said, “Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

In 1960, a color barrier still existed on at least one team in the NFL,[131][132] but Jack Vainisi, the Scouting Director for the Packers,[86] and Lombardi were determined "to ignore the prejudices then prevalent in most NFL front offices in their search for the most talented players".[133] Lombardi explained his views by saying that he "... viewed his players as neither black nor white, but Packer green".[134]

Among professional football head coaches, in the midst of the civil rights movement, Lombardi's anti-discrimination views were unusual.[135] When Lombardi joined the Packers, they only had one black player, Nate Borden. During his time as coach the team became fully integrated: by 1967 they had 13 black players, including All-Pros Willie Davis, Willie Wood, Dave Robinson, Herb Adderley and Bob Jeter.[136]

During his first training camp in Green Bay, Lombardi was notified by Packer veterans that an interracial relationship existed between one of the Packer rookies and a young woman.[137] The next day at training camp, Lombardi—who was vehemently opposed to Jim Crow discrimination and had a zero-tolerance policy towards racism—responded by warning his team that if any player exhibited prejudice in any manner, that specific player would be thrown off the team.

Lombardi let it be known to all Green Bay establishments that if they did not accommodate his black and white players equally well, then that business would be off-limits to the entire team.[138] Before the start of the 1960 regular season, he instituted a policy that the Packers would only lodge in places that accepted all his players.[139] Lombardi also refused to assign hotel rooms to players based on their race: by 1967 the Packers were the only NFL team with such a policy.[136]

Lombardi was a member of the all-white Oneida Golf and Riding Country club in Green Bay, and he demanded that he should be allowed to choose a Native American caddie, even if white caddies were available.[140] Lombardi's view on racial matters was a result of his religious faith and the ethnic prejudice that he had experienced as an Italian-American.[141]

While with the Redskins in 1969, at Lombardi's insistence and with the support of then-minority owner Jack Kent Cooke, Hall of Fame wide receiver Bobby Mitchell joined the Redskins' front office, becoming the first African American to work in an NFL front office, and eventually becoming the NFL's first African American executive, working his way up to assistant general manager in 1981.[142]

One Packer famously said that Lombardi 'treats us all the same – like dogs.' To the coach, there were no gay dogs or straight dogs; there were just Packers who had one goal: to play their best and win.
—Jim Buzinski, co-founder[143]

Lombardi was known to be volatile and terse with players during practices and games, and he insisted on unconditional respect for everyone in his organization.[144] Lombardi demanded acceptance from players and coaches toward all people and was noted for his stance against homophobia.[145] According to Lombardi biographer and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Maraniss, if he caught a coach "discriminating against a player thought to be gay, he'd be fired".[146] Richard Nicholls, the lifelong partner of Lombardi's younger brother, Hal, stated, "Vin was always fair in how he treated everybody ... a great man who accepted people at face value for what they were, and didn't judge anybody. He just wanted you to do the job."[147]

In Washington, Lombardi's assistant general manager David Slatterly was gay, as was PR director Joe Blair, who was described as Lombardi's "right-hand man".[148] According to son Vince Lombardi, Jr., "He saw everyone as equals, and I think having a gay brother (Hal) was a big factor in his approach ... I think my father would've felt, 'I hope I've created an atmosphere in the locker room where this would not be an issue at all. And if you do have an issue, the problem will be yours because my locker room will tolerate nothing but acceptance.'"[147]

Upon his arrival in Washington, Lombardi was aware of tight end Jerry Smith's sexual orientation.[149] "Lombardi protected and loved Jerry," said former teammate Dave Kopay.[150] Lombardi brought Smith into his office and told him that his sexual orientation would never be an issue as long as he was coaching the Redskins; Smith would be judged solely on his on-the-field performance and contribution to the team's success.[151] Under Lombardi's leadership Smith flourished, becoming an integral part of Lombardi's offense, and was voted a First Team All-Pro for the first time in his career, which was also Lombardi's only season as the Redskins head coach.[152]

Lombardi invited other gay players to training camp and would privately hope they would prove they could earn a spot on the team.[153] In Lombardi's first season with the Washington Redskins, Ray McDonald, a gay running back with sub-par skills[154] was trying to make the Redskins roster again.[citation needed]. Lombardi told running back coach, George Dickson,[155] 'I want you to get on McDonald and work on him and work on him – and if I hear one of you people make reference to his manhood, you'll be out of here before your ass hits the ground.'

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