Tuesday I almost finished When Pride Still Mattered. However, the Doug Jones – Roy Moore election results pulled me away from the book, so I finished it Wednesday.
On pages 343 through 504, David Maraniss takes the reader from the 1963 NFL season to Lombardi’s death in September 1970. The material in these sections is good and Maraniss holds the reader until the book’s last page. The fact that the reader stays engaged is due in no small part to Maraniss’ gifts as a writer. Consider his description of the 1965 NFL championship game, the last such game before the Super Bowl started after the following season – “…the game was best considered on its own, a faded dream played in the mist and slop, a transitory moment between football past and future” (p. 382).
Given the amount that I read, I won’t bore with a blow-by-blow account of each chapter. But a couple of highlights stood out –
One interesting story concerns Lombardi’s gay brother, Harold. Maraniss uses this section to show that despite Lombardi’s conservatism on many points, he was able to accept people regardless of race or sexuality.
Another strong section concerns Lombardi’s retirement from coaching following the Green Bay Packers’ victory in Super Bowl II in January 1968. According to Maraniss, Lombardi was in bad mental and physical shape, as the constant pressure to win had worn on him. Predictably, Lombardi was miserable without coaching and became the Washington Redskins’ head coach for the 1969 season.
The final section of the book concerns Lombardi’s illness and death from cancer. Lombardi’s decline was rapid, as he entered a Washington D.C. Hospital at the end of June 24, 1970, and died September 3rd. This material is brief in When Pride Still Mattered covering pages 488 to 499. Lombardi’s end was sad and reading about it moves the reader.
Maraniss does a nice job of summing up Lombardi’s life. He gently suggests that – in regard to Lombardi’s fame – his early death might have only increased his legend –
“It could be argued that Lombardi was dying at the appropriate time. He was in danger of being reduced to a convenient symbol by then, his philosophy misused by all sides in the political debates of that war-torn era. …leaving the scene was a way for him to survive in memory as a mythic symbol, the block of granite and steadfast coach of the glorious Packers, rather than staying around to become an increasingly frustrated coach fighting for relevance in the fickle modern American culture” (p. 497).
When Pride Still Mattered is a terrific read. Maraniss covers Lombardi’s life and does so in a way that explains his importance to American culture. I give the entire book an 8.5 out of 10.