Go Vince, go!

May 14, 2016 963

by Susanna Squellerio

Living in Green Bay has a very peculiar dimension. Nature is overwhelming and spectacular. From the first moment here, I very much appreciated the close contact with this magnificence. Spring awaits to arrive but then, it explodes in jubilation and repays for those long cold winter days. Here, deadlines on calendars are unusual. With Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, feast of All Saints, you can find the dates of the Green Bay Packers' matches written in capital letters.

Walking across the streets of the town I noticed that people, I could dare say 70% of them, wear at least one yellow or green item, the famous colors of the team. In proximity of a match, it's all they talk about. People brighten up, they revitalize, and it's certainly no small matter! Intrigued, I ask to a passer-by to quantify his passion for the Packers: "100 per cent! This is not just a passion, it's life!" he answers and other curious people walking by shout stadium chants "Go Packs, go!". Everything leaves me a bit stunned "A definitely exaggerated cheer" I think. I don't understand, but I'd like to. So much energy spent, is it worth it? I inquire.

The Green Bay Packers are a team of professional American football players with its main offices in Green Bay, Wisconsin from 1919. Green Bay is nicknamed Titletown for the thirteen NFL titles won by its team, the only professional football team that has won three consecutive titles, twice, from 1929 to 1931 and from 1965 to 1967. Their unique features don't end here.

In the overview of all the professional sports in the United States, the Packers are today the only team without just one owner, it is in fact supported by an administrative board with actions to sell and buy.
"Congrats" I think and I realize that a sort of reflected pride emerges within me. I explore the knowledge and I discover that, the glorious Packers, had a coach, Thomas Vincent Lombardi, with whom they won five championships and two consecutive Super Bowls, in 1966 and 1967. "Lombardi must have had Italian origins!" I say.

And yes, Vince Lombardi was born in Brooklyn on June 11th 1913, from Enrico "Harry" Lombardi and Matilde "Mattie" Izzo. His grandparents were Italian immigrants who came from Salerno and from Vietri di Potenza, small Lucanian town in the suburbs of Potenza, Basilicata. In 1928 when he was only fifteen he joined a seminar in order to undertake religious studies. His physical frailness prevented him from peaking in the sports he practiced in his school. However, against the ministers' advice, he continued playing football.

Four years after he decided to leave the ecclesiastic college and enrolled in St. Francis Preparatory in 1932. Once he completed this cycle of studies, he enrolled in Fordham University and played in their football team gaining achievements. In 1937 he graduated with Magna Cum Laude and decided to enroll in Law School attending evening classes while, during the day, he was working for a financial company. At this point he wanted to change his life course and follow his true passion that is football, and accepted the assistant coach role for the St. Cecilia High School in New Jersey where he remained for eight years. In 1940 he married Marie Planitz from whom he had two children, Vince Jr. and Susan.

He spent the next years training in 1947 in Fordham University and in 1949 in west Point, under the great Red Black's wings. Within him, a great personality was being traced. The considerable traits of simplicity and realization that marked him in those years became his most dominant. A tireless worker, he was often acclaimed and this made him obtain respect in the sports world.

It was in 1954, when he was 41 that he began his life and career in the NFL with the Giants from New York as an offensive coordinator. Thanks to Vince and Tom Landry, defensive coordinator, the Giants won after years of defeat, against the Bears from Chicago scoring 47-7 in the final championship match in 1956. His career should have evolved but he feared prejudice, too often obvious, for his Italian origins. So Jim Lee Howell helped him and managed to obtain the role of head coach for some American universities. In those years football changed. From being a simple game, it became complex, with strategies, formations, tactics and a game of strength.

1958 was a terrible season for the Packers. The players were discouraged and the whole community, stockholders and fans were very disappointed and angry. The danger of disappearing loomed over the team because of its financial solvency. Vince Lombardi, once again, welcomed the challenge. On February the 2nd 1959 he accepted the role as head coach and general manager for the Green Bay Packers. He expected very much from his team players to whom he dedicated many and long hours of work and complete commitment. It didn't take long before results arrived.

Five victories in the NFL including the victories for the Super Bowl solidified the position of Vincent as coach as the greatest in history. Afterwards, in 1969, he coached the Red Skin that readily won the season after ten years of fiascos. At this point his life was coming to an end.

Struck by a terrible and aggressive cancer he died on September the 3rd 1970 at only fifty-seven years old. Thousands of people participated to the funeral services and shortly after, his name was included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and he was honored by the NFL that dedicated to him the name of the Trophy, that still today, is handed to the winning team of the Super Bowl.

In his career he never had a losing season: out of 202 games he obtained 147 victories, 47 defeats and six ties.

He used to say: "It doesn't matter how many times you fall, but how many times you fall and get back up" and "People who work together will win. Whether they are fighting against a complex football defense or the problems of modern society." A strong and certainly tenacious man. His story makes me ponder.

I often read about Italians so obstinate to have risen in spite of a less than comfortable society and of a life that was foreseeably hard and often impossible. Many like Vincent have fought, and have brought out the best of themselves and much more. With his Italian nature he demonstrated, first and foremost to himself, and then to the rest of society, in those times filled with prejudice, that Italians can fight, keep on going, sacrifice themselves, have passion, believe in their ideals and win!

His name Vincent*, was a prophecy. A more beautiful name couldn't have been attributed to him, who had victory in his blood! Following my stay in Green Bay, when I here the name Vincent Lombardi, I too hear the sound of bells ring in celebration, those of victory, of pride, those of a winner of a hard and fierce battle, the most felt ones.

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