“When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi,” an incredibly well researched biography, takes an unflinching look at Lombardi’s personal life as well as his famed professional milestones.
Vince Lombardi, a legend in American football, is often remembered for having said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” He was a taskmaster, a leader, and well respected as a coach, but it took over two decades to reach national fame in the NFL. He spent a number of years as a coach at St. Cecelia’s in Englewood, NJ before moving on to a coaching position at his alma mater, Fordham University in NYC and then to West Point.
His next professional move was to the NFL, where he was an assistant coach for the NY Giants. He worked with some of the greats – Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, and Charlie Conerly among others. His solid strategies for training the offensive line proved that he had the stuff of head coaches. At the age of 45, he became head coach and general manager of the Green Bay Packers. He transformed them from a sadly disorganized losing team, to winners of the only three consecutive NFL championships in the history of the game (the last championship before the Superbowl was created, followed by SuperBowls I and II). One of his famous quotes, made at the first team meeting: "I have never been on a losing team, gentlemen, and I do not intend to start now!"
Living in a family of football fans as I did, Lombardi was a household name. His ability to have turned around the sad sack Packers and create that amazing team was talked about, rehashed and dissected. The tactic of running the ‘sweep’ repeatedly was astounding to me – if a team runs the same play against the opposition again and again, why can’t the other team defend against it? After all, they knew what was coming. The play was so famous that even the fans knew what was coming. And, of course the opposition did, but not trained well enough against it to keep the Packers from rolling over them.
“When Pride Still Mattered” includes interviews, conversations, and assessments from players that worked with Lombardi through the years. There are detailed descriptions of important games and even information about the early Players Association. Read this section and you’ll understand the need to form the first players union back then.
Maraniss’ notes about Lombardi’s family are equally revealing. Having a famous father that spent more time with the players than at home, was difficult for Lombardi’s son and daughter. A bizarre story of Susan handing out towels in the ladies room at the Giants games boggles the mind. The strain on his marriage was apparent as Marie took a back seat to her husband’s chosen profession, even during their honeymoon. If she had not attended each and every home game, she might not have seen him at all during the season.
That winning spirit pushed Lombardi to greatness in football and Maraniss details the highs and lows along the way. “When Pride Still Mattered” looks at the principles that drove Vince Lombardi’s life both on and off the field, and lets you draw your own conclusions about whether that driving force is worth the sacrifices made.
I highly recommend David Maraniss’ “When Pride Still Mattered,” not only for the fascinating look into the life of a football icon, but for its literary style as well. Lots of biographers turn a person’s life into a list of facts and cute moments and we are left knowing little more than what has already been written in newspaper articles or on the internet. Whether you are a football fan or a fan of sports in general, “When Pride Still Mattered” is worth your time.
Resilient: Attribute of someone who can "bounce back" after shock or injury, whether of the physical or psychological kind.
Before Louis Zamperini, the subject of Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken,” became an Olympic runner, he had been a juvenile delinquent, getting into so much trouble that some thought he might not survive his teenaged years. He was restless, reckless and unimpressed by boundaries or rules, outsmarting his targets at every turn. His parents tried, but were unable to rein him in. He was unbowed by physical or verbal threats. Then in high school, his brother helped save Zamperini from himself by persuading the principal to let him race. Over the next year, training consisted of being hit with a stick, running over hills and trails, and running until he dropped. Eventually, running was all he wanted to do.
As he matured, he became one of the best distance runners in the world, but WW2 broke out and Zamperini’s future changed. He joined the Army Air Corps, and then was shot down in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor. Despite the ordeal of drifting over 1000 miles in open seas for 47 days with no provisions and surrounded by sharks, he and another airman survived, only to be captured by the Japanese once they reached land in the Marshall Islands. His non-stop harrowing experience at the hands of torturers who never heard of the Geneva Convention would have broken a different man, but Zamperini had an incredible inner strength that brought him through. Resilience.
This non-fiction account of his courage and endurance in the face of inconceivable challenges has been on the NYT bestseller list for over 165 weeks. In “Unbroken,” Hillenbrand’s descriptions are gritty, raw and oh, so real. I smelled the decaying bodies. I was in the water when the enemy aircraft shot at the raft. I was terrified when Watanabe (a guard who singled him out) came close and demonstrated the worst form of man’s inhumanity to man.
We civilians would hope that this kind of mistreatment does not occur if our loved ones in the military are wounded or captured by the enemy. We also hope that they will return to us mentally and emotionally unscarred by whatever traumas they have experienced, but we know this is not always the case. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a very real possibility for people serving at the front lines and while nobody gave it a name in WW2, Zamperini must have been a clear example. That Zamperini was capable of forgiveness years later is remarkable in itself, but his action of forgiveness moved even his former enemies.
Hillenbrand has shown once again that truth is sometimes more riveting than fiction – remember her engrossing retelling of the story of “Seabiscuit?”
Zamperini died July 2, 2014 at the age of 97. His son, Luke, gives talks about his father’s inspirational life and Zamperini’s legacy will also live on in an upcoming movie.
Please visit www.laurahillenbrandbooks.com for more information about future plans for “Unbroken.”