“When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi” by David Maraniss


Book Cover - When Pride Still Mattered

“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.