Funny/Interesting Things I Found in “When Pride Still Mattered”

Posted on February 20, 2015

From when smoking was a performance enhancing drug

“When Pride Still Mattered” is the biography of Vince Lombardi, however I don’t necessarily think you need to be a Packers fan to get a lot out of it. His career as a coach really follows the sport as it becomes professional, and I found some rather charming anecdotes about himself and the sport:

“The original super bowl’s name was taken from the Chiefs owner’s grandson’s toy, a high bouncing ‘super-ball.’”

The Super Bowl’s capitalization is [sic]‘d btw.

Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi were the defensive and offensive co-ordinators (respectively) for the Giants during the 54-57 seasons.

On Lombardi’s hobbies:

“This autocrat of the football world found pleasure in unexpected diversions and habits. His favorite method of easing tension at home was cleaning closets. He also enjoyed reading mathematics books and was an ardent collector of cookbooks, accumulating scores of them, even though Marie preferred to eat out and his own culinary skills stopped at char-grilled steaks and wet scrambled eggs. It was an escape into fantasy for him; he would read a cookbook with the same narrative delight that he had long ago taken in the adventure tales of Richard Halliburton – not skipping around from the table of contents to favorite selections, but moving page by page, from front cover to back, engrossed in the plot line from tomatoes Provençal to Italian Parmesan and egg soup to braised rack of lamb to marzipan cake. “You know what, we really ought to make this,” he declared now and then, but they never would. Another of his fantasies was that he was a magician. He took childlike delight in magic tricks, and practiced a few of the simplest ones involving string, balls and handkerchiefs over and over, though never nearing mastery. “Mr. Lombardi, you blew it!” a neighborhood boy screamed one day, when Lombardi tried to perform a trick making a cigarette move on the table while rubbing the youngster’s head.”

On Paul Hornung, according to Dick Schaap, then sports editor of Newsweek:

Each morning Paul would get up about quarter to nine and be at the field by nine o’clock. They would practice until twelve and there would be meetings to three. At three he’d come home, mix a pitcher of martinis and drink martinis until six o’clock with Kramer and the others. Then they’d go out to dinner, a group of players. Scotch before dinner. Wine with dinner. Brandy after dinner. Then back on scotch. Every day. I lost count by the time it had reached more than sixty just how many drinks he had in the week leading up to the Browns game. Also, he never went to bed before four in the morning. He never went to bed alone, and he never repeated himself.”

I should mention that it was noted, during descriptions of the ‘Ice Bowl’, that there were ash trays built into the lockers in Lambeau field:

“Cartons of Marlboros were stacked on the floor at Hornung’s house, freebies that he received from the tobacco company for advertising them. The boys often took little giveaway four-packs downtown to hand out to young women in the bars. They smoked the rest themselves. Before every game Hornung sat alone on his stool, puffing away, gathering his thoughts. There would be time for two cigarettes during halftime, when the clubhouse was dense with smoke: Marlboros passed around (none for Starr, who never smoked), Lombardi dragging on his Salem, Henry jordan bumming a Camel from Phil Bengston, Jimmy Taylor pulling out a cigar.”

More reasons to like JFK:

“Perhaps it was just coincidence that Hornung missed the final game against the Rams, but he was not needed in any case. Better for him to rest his sore shoulder, in preparation for the championship game, which was to be held in Titletown on New Year’s Eve. But when Hornung was told of the Christmas leave policy at Fort Riley, he realized that he had another problem. Furloughs had been divided into two sections by the alphabet. Surnames A through L were off the week leading up to Christmas, M through Z the week later. Hornung called Lombardi. “Coach,” he said. “I can’t make the game. I’ve gotta be back the week of the game.” Lombardi was upset, Hornung recalled, but he said he had one more card to play. The coach had seen President Kennedy that month at the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame dinner in New York, they had sat together on the dias and chatted and joked about the Army coaching job, which was opening again with the firing of Dale Hall. Kennedy had given Lombardi the number to his private phone line at the White House and said to call if he ever needed anything. “I’m going to call him,” Lombardi told Hornung. “You be ready to go.”

As Hornung later told the story, “I go back and pack and Kennedy calls Fort Riley and asks to speak to the camp commander, who is not there, so he finally gets the company commander. And he says, ‘This is President Kennedy and I’m calling on behalf of Paul Hornung,’ and the guy says, ‘Yeah and I’m Donald Duck.’ But he got me out. A major came down and told me I could leave.” … there is one document that confirms the essence of the transaction. Lombardi later wrote a letter to Kenneth O’Donnell, special assistant to the president, thanking him for two things: First an autographed picture of Kennedy and Lombardi at the football banquet, which the coach said he was “completely thrilled to have.” and second: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your help in obtaining leave for Paul Hornung so he could participate in the Championship Game.””

Vince Lombardi cuts the shirts off of sweaty boys:

After the awards ceremony, Sabol found the coach in his dressing quarters struggling to take off his tie. Long ago, in another locker room, Vinnie Lombardi had been overtaken by joy when the young and outmatched Cadets of Army had stunned Duke at the Polo Grounds, and he had moved triumphantly among his players that afternoon with a pair of scissors, cutting off their sweat-soaked T-shirts, the symbols of hard-won victory. Now, in the moments after winning his fourth pro championship in six years, the symbol was not a players’ sweat-soaked shirt but a coach’s knotted necktie. The tie said everything about Lombardi and the pressure he was under to win. He had cinched a Windsor knot so tight that he could not undo it, no matter how vigorously he yanked and pulled. Finally, in exasperation, he asked the equipment man for a pair of scissors and cut it loose from his straining neck.”

I wish I had taken this down as a quote, but it’s lost to the sands of time and laziness:

Herb Rich was traded to the Giants from the Rams, and was concerned that he would not get paid for his first game. So he called the newly formed NFL office, where deBenneville “Bert” Belle, the NFL commissioner answered and immediately dealt with the problem.

On college football and big business:

College football has become in many instances big business. Today in college football it is the crowds, the winners, the receipts, that count above all else in 70% of the institutions.”

-Yale President James Angell, 1935

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