Looking Back on Lombardi’s Legacy by Packertoons
At first glance, this Lahey cartoon with the word “Homecoming” on the bottom appears to be celebrating the beginning of a football season with Lombardi. However, the date is September 1970, which was after Lombardi left the Packers for the Washington Redskins. Knowing that Vince Lombardi died from colon cancer on September 3, 1970, the word “Homecoming” would seem to reference a religious homecoming for coach Lombardi as well as a tribute from the Green Bay community.
Growing up, the Catholic church had been a big part of Lombardi’s daily life. His habits in later life could be traced back to not only the emphasis on work ethic from his family life but from the order, discipline, and formality of the religious routines of his youth.1
Lombardi was such a beloved icon that even though he left Green Bay, the Green Bay community memorialized him as if he was still theirs. According to Len Wagner, Lombardi’s status as a legend was due to “molding a team of faceless, floundering football players into the most devastating machine the sport has ever known. And in doing so, Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers dominated the 1960’s with victories, championships, glamour, and awe.”2
This cartoon depicts the time shortly before Vince Lombardi’s death when he underwent surgery. Even though Lombardi left Wisconsin, fans in Green Bay were still interested in news of him. The words on the paper reference his legendary toughness.
On June 27, 1970, a tumor was removed from Lombardi’s colon at Georgetown University Hospital.3 Unfortunately, a few weeks later a routine check up turned into another surgery and there was concern that he wouldn’t be able to return to coaching that season.4Fans in Green Bay were able to follow the news on Lombardi through the Press Gazette and near the end Len Wagner asked the Green Bay community “to forget his faults, recall what his years in Green Bay meant to all of us and pray for his recovery”.5
In reference to his toughness Lombardi once said, “By hardnosed, I mean being mentally tough. As soon as a player puts on football pants, he should be physically tough. What’s important is the mental approach. That’s where you’re hardnosed.”6
This Lahey piece references Dan Devine, who became head coach and general manager of the Packers in 1971. The “moon” is Vince Lombardi. Lombardi in the sky is a reference to his death in 1970. Lombardi as moon could also be said to be watching over the Packers and their new coach. Shadows at the men’s feet suggest that Devine could be feeling the pressure of being in the shadow of legendary coach, Lombardi.
Devine came to the Packers in 1971 with excellent credentials from a career as a college coach, but as a pro football coach coming into Green Bay shortly after Lombardi’s championship wins he was under pressure to be a high performer like Lombardi and win championships in Green Bay.7
Correct Answer: Head Coach and General Manager of the Green Bay Packers
- David Maraniss, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999), 20-25
- Len Wagner. “Lombardi: A Legend.” Green Bay Press Gazette, Semtempber 3, 1970, https://greenbaypressgazette.newspapers.com/image/1888111168 (accessed November 10, 2018).
- Washington (AP). “Lombardi ‘Excellent’ After Tumor Surgery.” Green Bay Press Gazette, June 27, 1970, https://greenbaypressgazette.newspapers.com/image/1888474834 (accessed November 10, 2018).
- Washington (AP). “Vince’s Routine Check Turns Into Operation.” Green Bay Press Gazette, July 28, 1970, https://greenbaypressgazette.newspapers.com/image/188474522(accessed November 10, 2018).
- Lee Wagner. “Vince Lombardi Pictured as Very Sick.” Green Bay Press Gazette, July 31, 1970 https://greenbaypressgazette.newspapers.com/image/1888818556 (accessed November 10, 2018).
- Washington (Press Dispatchers and P.G. Special Correspondants). “Can’t Walk on Potomac, Lombardi Tells Press” Green Bay Press Gazette, February 7, 1969, https://greenbaypressgazette.newspapers.com/image/189183122 (accessed November 10, 2018).
- Polevitch, William, Green Bay Packers: Trails, Triumphs, and Tradition, Historical Society Press (Madison: Wisconsin, 2012).