Saturday, I had to go to graduation. When you’re on faculty, it’s hard to get much out of still-another speaker and still-another group of graduates. The best thing that you can say about graduation is that it’s a great opportunity to read, which is how I spent the 2+ hours.
The pages that I read Saturday took Vince Lombardi from 1951, when he helped West Point’s football program recover from its infamous cheating scandal, to 1960 when he’d established himself as head coach of the Green Bay Packers. So, this phase of Lombardi’s life is critical, because it culminates (after over 20 years of effort) in Lombardi finding the long-sought head coaching job that would make him famous.
Maranniss attribues Lombardi’s eventual success both to luck and skill – “…a thousand flits of fate could have taken him somewhere else…” (p. 190). When Pride Still Matters does a nice job of describing the dire straits into which the Packer franchise had fallen before Lombardi. The book also explains what a strange choice New York City-native Lombardi was for head coach of a team in a small, midwestern city.
“He’s a rough soul” – Army Head Coach Red Blaik on Lombardi (p. 99)
One insight into Lombardi from Saturday’s reading is his total obsession with football, and the extent to which his identification with the game ruled his life. So absorbed was Lombardi that – when both were New York Giants assistants – future Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry “…came to think of Lombardi as a borderline manic-depressive. He gave him the nickname ‘Mr. High-Low’ – because when his offense did well he was sky high; but, boy, whey they didn’t do well, you couldn’t speak to him” (p. 161).
Marannis provides another fascinating insight into Lombardi, in noting that he always told his players that pain didn’t exist, that it was just in their heads. (Lombardi first heard this idea from his father). But, during his own athletic career, injuries constantly plagued Lombardi and he continued to need medical treatments throughout his life. Marannis comments that “It is a characteristic of many leaders that they confront their own weaknesses indirectly, by working to eliminate them in others, strengthened in that effort by their intimate knowledge of frailty” (p. 221).
Predictably, Lombardi’s family life was successful on the surface, but less so behind the scenes. His children suffered his neglect and his wife was never happy. One of Lombardi’s daughter’s Susan’s friends said that the Lombardi’s home was “one of sadness… It was a sad house as soon as you walked in, empty, you could feel the family void” (p. 232). This material interested me, but it wasn’t particularly enlightening, as the first part of When Pride Still Mattered provides the reader with Maranniss’ take on the Lombardis’ home life.
So far, I’m really enjoying When Pride Still Mattered. While I have my quibbles, Maranniss has a good sense of what to include and what to leave out. The story moves and the readers is excited to see what comes next. I’ll stick with yesterday’s rating of 8.5 out of 10.