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Vince Lombardi's Enduring Redskins Legacy


Were he still alive today, former Redskins head coach Vince Lombardi would have turned 100 years old this week. Here's a look back at his enduring impact on Washington football.

When the Redskins traded three premium draft picks for the rights to draft Robert Griffin III, it wasn't the first time that Redskins' ownership made an offseason offer that couldn't be refused.

Following the 1968 season, Packers' general manager Vince Lombardi felt the itch to return to the sideline and found immediate interest from more than a half dozen professional and college teams.

Coming off of yet another losing season, Redskins' owner and president Edward Bennett Williams reportedly offered the farm: an executive vice president title, full say over personnel and football decisions, a $110,000 salary and a 5 percent stake in ownership.

The Green Bay Packers subsequently released him from his contract, finalizing the deal.

At his introductory press conference, Lombardi was all smiles, telling the media: "I'm very happy to be here--believe me--most happy to be a Washington Redskin."

The Redskins had not enjoyed a winning season since 1955 and needed a spark from the man who won 73 percent of his games as head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

Asked what year he would like to break the streak of losing, Lombardi replied, "I'd like to win in the first year, if possible."

Not only did Lombardi make the possible, delivering a 7-5-2 season in 1969, butdid so in his only one season at the helm of the Redskins.

In the summer before the 1970 season, Lombardi checked into Georgetown University Hospital where his long-term digestive problems were diagnosed as terminal colorectal cancer.

He passed away shortly before the start of the 1970 season, leaving behind a a devastated group of players, but one that would go on to find greatness thanks to his short time in Washington.

An excerpt from Jim Gehman's "Then Gibbs Said to Riggins...," talking to Redskins' running back Larry Brown, who Lombardi first discovered was deaf in one ear:

"I would probably give the credit [for being the team's first 1,000-yard rusher in 1970] to Vince Lombardi in this respect; I worked very hard that first year [1969] to win his confidence and the right to start at the running back position.

"The first game in 1969 [at New Orleans], I did not start the first half. He started the veterans. It was probably the best thing to do, to give the veterans a shot to keep their positions. But they didn't do extremely well, so he yanked them out and put myself and [fullback] Charley Harraway in.

"My first running play, I didn't particularly carry out that assignment very well. And then with some increasing pressure from him on the sideline, I began to develop some sort of rhythm in the way I was running. He had this rule that you stay with the [assigned blocking] hole. I'm saying to myself, 'This guy's crazy! There is no hole!' So I had to find holes. He said, 'Fine, you have broken a rule. But every time you deviate from the rule, you'd better not come up with losing yardage.'

"I guess because of the fear that I had being confronted by him; I was even more determined to find what you'd call 'daylight' if it wasn't where it was supposed to be. That meant you had to think quicker and you had to move quicker. That helped me develop a kind of rhythm that I needed to be a good running back in the National Football League."

Redskins' Hall of Fame linebacker Chris Hanburger also played under Vince Lombardi in Washington, and described him this way (via Gehman):

"[Lombardi] was a lot more than a coach. He taught you a lot about life as well as football. And of course, he brought with him quite a history. You were really in awe of him in everything that he did and said.

"He was just a wonderful person to be around despite all the supposedly bad things that you heard about him, how he could be and so on. But I found him to be a remarkable human being."

Sonny Jurgensen, a fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer and Redskins quarterback during Lombardi's tenure, described him as the best he ever encountered on the sideline (via Gehman):

"Of the nine different head coaches that I had, [Lombardi] was head and shoulders above everybody else. No comparison. It was easy to see why Green Bay was so successful.

"Of all the coaches I played for, he simplified the game instead of trying to complicate it. If I could have played my career with him, it would have made the game a lot of fun."




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