Coaching with Conviction: Vince Lombardi's Extraordinary Success as the Legendary Coach of the Green Bay Packers Demonstrates the Dramatic Difference Principle-Based Leadership Can Make

By Behreandt, Denise L. | The New American, June 13, 2005 | Go to article overview

Coaching with Conviction: Vince Lombardi's Extraordinary Success as the Legendary Coach of the Green Bay Packers Demonstrates the Dramatic Difference Principle-Based Leadership Can Make


Behreandt, Denise L., The New American


On December 31, 1967, it was 13 degrees below zero with a wind chill of minus 46 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Despite the weather, two football teams prepared to face each other on the frozen expanse of Lambeau Field. The team from Texas, the fearsome Dallas Cowboys, stood frigidly on the sidelines of the football field and, according to Green Bay Packer fullback Chuck Mercein, "looked like earthmen on Mars." Unlike the Cowboys, the players on the Green Bay sideline were accustomed to the harsh Wisconsin climate. But even they were surprised by the unexpectedly brutal arctic conditions. "It's just too cold to play," Willie Wood, the Green Bay Packers' safety said. "They're gonna call this game off."

Despite the weather, kickoff came as scheduled. One would think that the Cowboys couldn't stand a chance against a team that was hardened to winter weather conditions. But according to David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, even Packer players proved susceptible to the cold. Bart Starr, the Packers' quarterback, fumbled the football right before halftime, owing to numbness in his hands. By halftime, the Packer lead was a slim 14-10.

When play resumed, the teams found themselves locked in a stalemate, unable to overcome either the weather or opposing defenses. It was brutal combat on a frozen field of battle. Fingers froze and feet were numb and injuries were an ever present danger as giant men in football armor sought to drive each other into the frozen ground of Lambeau Field. Even the referees suffered. "Bill Schliebaum, the line judge," writes Maraniss, "had his whistle freeze to his lips and lost a layer of skin yanking it loose."

As the icy contest drew to a close, the Packers found themselves behind. A touchdown had given the Cowboys a 17-14 lead. Nevertheless, with 16 seconds remaining, the Green Bay Packers had something the opposing players did not have: the teachings and inspiration of their head coach, Vince Lombardi, a famously stubborn perfectionist, disciplinarian, and leader. Lombardi's uncompromising values and teachings were never so apparent as during that 1967 "Ice Bowl" game.

Under Lombardi's tutelage, the Packers had learned never to give in. They would not give up now. As time ran down, the Packers' offense confidently and methodically marched down the field, the cleats of the linemen clicking and clacking with every hard-fought step on the frozen turf. With only enough time for one last play, Bart Starr stood on the threshold of victory at the goal line. Across the line of scrimmage, the grimly determined Cowboys prepared to defend their territory one last time. Bending over the center, Starr took the snap, paused, then lunged forward behind his offensive line and fell into the end zone as time expired. Against the forces of nature and against a talented and determined opponent, the Packers and Vince Lombardi had prevailed.

For those watching and for the Packer players themselves, "that final [touchdown] drive, more than anything else, was the perfect expression of Vince Lombardi," wrote Maraniss. "The conditions were miserable, the pressure enormous, and there were no fumbles, no dropped passes, no mistakes.... In his speeches Lombardi talked about character in action, and here it was, in real life." So it appeared to legendary announcer Ray Scott. "Of all the games I've done," said Scott, "that final drive was the greatest triumph of will over adversity I'd ever seen."

The "Ice Bowl" was a testament to the teachings and life of Vince Lombardi. Over the preceding seasons. Lombardi taught players the values he learned and embraced himself from youth to adulthood. One of the great leaders of the last century, Lombardi taught that a virtuous existence will aid in the ability to triumph over adversity both in football and in life.

Vince and the Virtues

Lombardi will always be remembered for the amazing Packer victory in the Ice Bowl. …

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