Vince Lombardi was born 100 years ago and it has been nearly half of century since the great coach roamed the sideline of Green Bay. Lombardi was one of those sports figures who transcended his sport.
Lombardi was an authoritarian figure in a time in which rebellion against authority was the rage - the 60’s. We are familiar with many Lombardi quotes just as “Winning isn’t everything, it is the only thing” but the message tough minded Lombardi was making actually was; be the best you can be.
Lombardi took over a Green Bay team that was woeful and turned a franchise at its nadir into champions. Vince Lombardi turned Paul Hornung, a Heisman trophy bust, into a Hall of Fame player. And, Hornung was not the only player Lombardi turned from a has-been into a Hall of Famer. Bart Starr was a 17th round draft pick who would lead Packers to five NFL Titles and the first two Super Bowl championships.
We live an era where we are taught to feel good about ourselves but Lombardi believed we shouldn’t just feel good about ourselves, we should be good. I have made the point that we live in an era of mediocrity in which excellence is not encouraged but is disdained. Lombardi’s era was a nation still striving for greatness. We went to the moon and dreamed of going even farther. We believed in worlds left unconquered. We were on the verge of a second wave of entrepreneurship. But today, business formation is falling behind past eras as future entrepreneurs are being discouraged by excessive regulations and taxation. In the 1960’s and the 1970’s, entrepreneurs were praised and encouraged. But today, we have a President who mocks entrepreneurs when he made his famous, “You didn’t build it” statement.
Lombardi pushed his athletes to their utmost and excellence was his goal and theirs. His famous “winning is the only thing” quote represents a quest to be the best. Much of what makes America great is the pursuit of excellence and be the best you can be while pursuing your dreams. This often means long hours and hard work as we work to pursue those dreams. Ask any entrepreneur and they will tell you about the long hours to get their business off the ground and maintain it. Pursuing one’s dreams means pursuing excellence. Do we remember the team that finished second in the Super Bowl? No, we don’t. And, most businesses that start up fail. Part of being an entrepreneur is learning from our mistakes and rising from failure to success. Vince Lombardi’s first championship game with the Eagles ended in failure. It was the last time a Lombardi team failed in the post season.
The lesson from Lombardi is that we should pursue excellence in all walks of life,. We should not be afraid to work hard. I ran track and cross-country in high school and college. After one of my last races in a college uniform, I ran my fastest quarter mile and we set a school record in the mile-relay. After the event, I was bent over and holding my knee as I was totally exhausted and my coach came up to me and stated “The pain of this race will shortly be gone but your accomplishment will last a lifetime.” He was right for I don’t remember the pain or the hard training that went into that event but that race stays with me.
As we get older, we often remember our accomplishments with pride, knowing the hard work that went with it. In America, accomplishments and the pursuit of excellence help create our society into the most prosperous in history. Lombardi believed in the pursuit of excellence and the building of champions.