The NFL is brutal … it’s a multi-billion dollar “what have you done for me lately” business that takes no prisoners. To succeed in today’s game, your veins have to run ice cold and one must be ready to move on to tomorrow in a moment’s notice.
While today’s league has grown by leaps and bounds, it was the trend-setters of a half century ago that built the foundation of what the league has become – and one of the most influential was the one and only Vince Lombardi.
He patented the no-nonsense, this-is-a-business mantra that led not only to the Green Bay Packers coach’s success in teaching the game, but in helping to establish a model from which everyone copied a template that continues to this day.
That’s why Vince Lombardi would have been successful in the NFL today – he understood that being the best meant sacrificing and dedicating oneself to the team concept. Those who fail in today’s game fail not because they can’t deal with the prima donna, it’s because they fail to follow the basic tenets that Lombardi helped establish decades ago.
Here’s what Lombardi had to say back in late April 1968 (courtesy of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame):
“I may have a different philosophy on personnel than others, but in my book I expect a player to improve from his rookie year on. If he doesn’t, we’ll find somebody to take his place.”
What successful general manager and coach doesn’t follow those simple guidelines? If they don’t, they don’t last long in the league.
Lombardi said those words while in Milwaukee to be honored by Alpha Sigma Nu (the national Jesuit honor society at Marquette University). At the time he was explaining a recent trade he made of tackle Steve Wright and linebacker Tommy Crutcher to the Giants for tackle Francis Peay.
Lombardi said about the trade and any other moves he made as the head of a team: “A team is never set.”
Those words ring strongly in the shadow of this past weekend’s 2013 NFL Draft. Teams selected anywhere from a half dozen to more than a dozen players from the college ranks to come in and compete for jobs. Many will make it, many will not.
But the ever-evolving team is what makes the NFL fresh and exciting. It’s the way teams operate that was established by the early movers and shakers in the league. Lombardi cemented it all with his views and modus operandi with the Packers. Teams continue today in their attempts to replicate what he started.
Many say that Lombardi’s approaches would never work today in the world of the mulit-millionaire players. I disagree for all of the reasons above, but even more importantly, I disagree because all players in the league – no matter how well set they are financially – play the game for the same reasons that players 50 years ago played – they love the game and will do whatever they can to win. That’s what it’s all about and that, in essence, is what Lombardi established when he was still with us.
His presence and influence will never leave the game.
I guess that’s probably why the game’s ultimate trophy and symbol bears his name.