Lombardi – Master of the Big Game

May 30, 2017

To Vince Lombardi, the ultimate goal was to win, and in his eyes that meant the NFL championship.  In order to do that, you had to win big games. That included big games in the regular season, as well as the conference playoffs and the NFL Championship game.  His last two years that also included the Super Bowl.  His victories are well documented- five championships in nine years and his last nine post seasons victories in a row.  That record was eventually broken by Bill Belichick of the Patriots.  But Lombardi’s motivation to win the big game really took off in 1960.

In just his second year in Green Bay, Lombardi had the Packers in the NFL Championship game against the Eagles in Philadelphia.  The Packers out gained the Eagles 401 yards to 296 and had nine more first downs.  But the Eagles held a 17-13 lead when the Packers got the ball for the last time with 1:05 to go in the game.  Starr drove them toward the Eagle’s goal. With seconds left and no time outs, Starr threw a pass to runner Jimmy Taylor, who was tackled on the 10 yard line by All Pro linebacker Chuck Bednarik, who laid on Taylor as the clock ran out.  Lombardi was devastated.  He had decided on several occasions in the game to go for it on fourth down in the Eagles territory and not kick the field goal.  The great coach felt like he had let his team down.  “When you get down there, you have to come out with something. I lost the game, not the players,” he said after the game.  Lombardi told his team after the press had left the locker room, “That will never happen again. You will never lose another championship game.”

Lombardi never forgot it. In training camp the next year, the Packers worked over time on goal line and short yardage offense.  From that day, he always kicked field goals and rarely went for the touchdown or the first down on a fourth down play. The Packers developed a two minute offense so they could drive the ball down and win the game. He drove his players relentlessly to equip them with what they needed to win a championship game.

Just before the 1960 championship game, the rumor around the NFL was that Lombardi was about to return to the Giants to take the head coaching job.  He had great success there as the offensive coordinator before going to Green Bay.  He was great friends with the owner of the Giants, Wellington Mara.  After the game, Lombardi turned the job down.  Did the rumor mill distract his players?  From that point on Lombardi vowed to work extra hard to make sure his players were as mentally prepared to play as they were physically prepared. Everything he did from training camp through the regular season was about preparing his team for the championship game.

The Packers never lost another post season game under Lombardi.