Buddy’s Blog 1/23/14

As most of us are aware, one of the world’s greatest sporting events is upon us, and this year’s Super Bowl should be one of the best in its almost 50 year history. The teams from Denver and Seattle will be vying for the Lombardi Trophy, named after the great Vince Lombardi.

The legendary Lombardi always had a special place in my family. My cousin Butch Fortunato, who guided Montclair high school, in New Jersey, for years to many State Championships in football, played football at Fordham when Lombardi was a member of the famous Seven “Blocks of Granite” which spearheaded these great Fordham teams. The two men became friends and when Lombardi left his coaching position at St. Cecilia’s high school he asked my cousin to take the position. He did not and stayed at Montclair. Lombardi was on his way to West Point where he would serve as an assistant to the great Army head coach, Colonel Red Blaik. Vince Lombardi would later say that his tenure under Red Blaik provided him with his greatest education to be coach. Lombardi thirsted to become a head coach at the collegiate level but the offers did not come. Indeed, Blaik himself wondered why his outstanding assistant was not fielding countless offers to fill vacant head coaching jobs, but sadly they would never come. The athletic department at the academy would later learn Lombardi did not get those offers because of his Italian heritage. As the other assistants under Blaik moved up to head coaching positions, Vince Lombardi thought he would forever be an “assistant.” It was at this time the New York Football Giants hired Jim Lee Howell as their head coach, who began to formulate his coaching staff. Colonel Blaik would give Lombardi his highest recommendation and told the Giants they would make a big mistake if they did not offer the offensive coordinator position to Vince. Lombardi would be hired. It was Vince who developed the Giant offense into a well oiled machine… it was Vince who tutored Charley Conerly and Frank Gifford to not only outstanding careers but the Football Hall of Fame. Lombardi would distinguish himself, once again, as an assistant as the Giants would win the National Football League Championship.

Finally, there would be an offer of a head coaching position. Not the one he most coveted, but it was the dream of being a head coach in the NFL. The lowly Green Bay Packers noticed the abilities of this Italian American. They did not care about anything other than his coaching ability. Friends ask Vince not to accept this position and to hold out for one better than this struggling franchise. Lombardi politely listened and packed his bags and family and took off for the frozen turf of Wisconsin. He was confident in what he could do and the rest is history. Lombardi’s Packers would become the most dominant team of the decade winning five NFL Championships and the first two Super Bowls.

Vince Lombardi would mold his teams in his likeness. They would be highly disciplined, good citizens and deeply religious. He attended mass everyday and would regularly serve as an alter boy serving communion.

When you see the most coveted trophy in professional football as you watch this year’s Super Bowl, remember that Vince Lombardi was refused head coaching positions because of his heritage…. yours and mine… and would become such a dominant and admired figure in professional football that its highest award would be named The Lombardi Trophy.

Cari lettori, questi sono i miei pensieri della settimana.

A.J. "Buddy" Fortunato

– A.J. “Buddy” Fortunato