To illustrate that Vince Lombardi was the greatest coach in NFL history, it’s quite apropos that his name is on the Super Bowl trophy that is awarded each year to the NFL champion. That tells you all you need to know about his excellence as a head coach.
That’s what happens when you coach a team to five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.
Lombardi had a .754 winning percentage in the regular season as head coach of the Packers, as the team had an 89-29-4 record over nine years.
But in the postseason, the Packers really shined under Lombardi, as the team went 9-1.
Lombardi liked to win. That is obvious. Even in the preseason. Vince had a 42-8 record in those games as well.
Lombardi inherited a team that went 1-10-1 in 1958. That team also had a lot of untapped talent then. On that squad were a number of players who would later be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That’s six players who are now in Canton who were already on the roster when Lombardi took over the team in 1959. There should be a seventh player. That would be right guard Jerry Kramer, who should have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame decades ago due to his stellar play.
Lombardi took that 1-10-1 team from 1958 and immediately brought a winning tradition to Green Bay.
In 1959 the Packers went 7-5 under Lombardi. A year later they played in the NFL championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. That would be the only postseason game Lombardi and his Packers ever lost.
Then came the run starting in 1961 of seven years that brought five NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowl wins.
The excellence of those teams was helped a great deal by the players Lombardi had inherited when he joined the team. But he also added to that excellence by acquiring some great talent himself through the draft and trades, plus free agent and waiver acquisitions as general manager.
First, let’s look at the trades and the other additions to the roster.
Thurston, along with Kramer, were the best set of guards in the NFL for several years. The staple play of the Lombardi Packers was the power sweep, and the success of that play was largely due to the great blocking by Thurston and Kramer.
Tunnell was near the end of his career when Lombardi acquired him, but he helped mentor a young safety named Willie Wood, who Lombardi signed as a free agent in 1960. Wood, like Tunnell, would be later inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame because of his hard-hitting presence and his ball-hawking ability.
Jordan also was inducted into the Hall of Fame because of his great play on the inside of the defensive line for several years.
In 1960, Lombardi also acquired defensive end Willie Davis from the Cleveland Browns, the same team which had traded Jordan to the Packers. Davis also would later be enshrined in Canton because of his dominance at defensive end.
In 1963, Lombardi picked up Zeke Bratkowski on waivers, and he later became the ideal back up to Starr at quarterback for a number of seasons.
In 1965, Lombardi made three key trades which would help the Packers win three consecutive NFL titles from 1965-67. Vince acquired outside linebacker Lee Roy Caffey, kicker Don Chandler and wide receiver Carroll Dale in three separate deals.
All three of those players played big roles in the Packers winning those three consecutive titles.
In 1967, Lombardi’s last season as head coach of the Packers, he also picked up free agent fullback Chuck Mercein, who played a huge role in the success of the team late in the season and the postseason.
In the draft, Lombardi could also spot talent. In 1961, he drafted a halfback from Michigan State named Herb Adderley in the first round. Lombardi later turned Adderley into a cornerback, and Herb’s fantastic career also got him enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Adderley was the best cover-corner in the NFL in the 1960s. Not only was he great in coverage and in picking off the ball, No. 26 could also deliver a vicious blow to opposing players.
In the first round in 1963, Lombardi drafted linebacker Dave Robinson. Robinson also has a bust in Canton now, as he, Nitschke and Caffey were the best set of linebackers in the NFL for a number of years.
In 1966, one of Lombardi’s two first-round draft picks was Gale Gillingham. Like Kramer, Gillingham was one of the elite guards of his era, and he also belongs in Canton.
Lombardi also drafted other players who also played a big part in the success of the Packers under his watch. The list includes running back Tom Moore, cornerback Bob Jeter, defensive tackle Ron Kostelnik, halfback Elijah Pitts, safety Tom Brown, defensive end Lionel Aldridge, tight end Marv Fleming, center Ken Bowman, halfback Donny Anderson, fullback Jim Grabowski and halfback/kick returner Travis Williams.
Bottom line, we all know that Vince Lombardi was the best of the best as a head coach. His record of excellence proves that.
But he deserves even more recognition because of his prowess as a general manager as well.