For today's Throwback Thursday moment presented by
SUBWAY*® restaurants, Redskins.com spoke with Vince Promuto about his season under head coach Vince Lombardi.
Of the five coaches Vince Promuto played for in his 11-year NFL career – all with the Redskins – the two-time Pro Bowl guard admired Vince Lombardi by far.
Despite being a quarter-century apart in age, the two felt a kinship for each other, in large part because of their Italian ethnicity. They were also tough guys from New York City.
Lombardi coached the Redskins for only one season, 1969, leading them to a 7-5-2 mark in their first winning season in 14 years. The legendary coach changed the culture of a perennially struggling squad.
He always believed in having the best conditioned players, whether it was in his nine seasons in Green Bay, which included five NFL championships, or his one year in D.C. He wanted his troops mentally and physically prepared for the rigors of the fourth quarter.
However, Promuto's initial impression of the demanding coach was not good. As Lombardi ran the Redskins to exhaustion in 1969 in training camp at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Penn., Promuto nearly called it quits before his 10th season.
"I went to see Lombardi one night in training camp," Promuto recalled. "I said, `Coach, I'm no Mack truck or anything. I'm a human being. You're screaming and yelling, and I'm not going to take it.' What he said completely disarmed me. He went 'ha ha, ha. You Italians are all the same. You get too emotional.' Once I knew he had compassion, I could take anything he was willing to shove out."
Promuto added: "That was a very important thing. If someone was going to use me like a piece of material rather than appreciate the humanity, I was going to leave the team. There were a lot of people that didn't leave. But I always had a place to go because my family was so tight. Without having any (pro football) options immediately, I was willing to walk. But he did that in such a quick and spontaneous way that I just fell in love with the guy."
Promuto helped key the Redskins' success in 1969. The nasty 6-1, 245-pound lineman served as a bodyguard for All-Pro quarterback Sonny Jurgensen, who posted league-highs in completions (274), attempts (442) and passing yards (3,102), and he opened holes for rookie running back Larry Brown, who rushed for 888 yards, fourth-best in the NFL.
Off the field, he spent a lot of time with Lombardi. Once, when he and the coach were at a breakfast at a church in Potomac, Md., someone asked Lombardi a question that sparked a witty answer.
According to Promuto, "One of the people in the crowd said,
Hey Coach Lombardi. How come you still use Promuto? He's slow, he's beat up. Do you start him because he's Italian?' Lombardi said,No, that's not why I start him. I start him because I'm Italian.' Those were great years."
Promuto, a jokester on the team, loved to mimic the bullhorn-voiced Lombardi, including his iconic line, "What the hell's going on out here!"
"He'd yell, `What the hell's going on out here," Promuto recalled, "and I would imitate him to a T. Once in a while, he'd be near the locker room and hear me. He'd give me the dirtiest looks."
Lombardi's stay in the nation's capital was brief. He died of colon cancer right before the 1970 season at age 57. His loss was devastating to Promuto and everyone else in the Redskins' organization.