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History behind the name of the Vince Lombardi trophy

There is no more significant event in sports every year than Super Bowl Sunday. Whether people are watching the game, the halftime show or the commercials, everyone is watching the top two teams compete for the right to win the highest trophy you can: the Vince Lombardi trophy. Standing at 22 inches tall with a football in its center lined up like a kickoff, it is the crown jewel for every NFL player to strive for.

The Lombardi trophy is named after former NFL legend Vince Lombardi, who was the Green Bay Packers head coach from 1959 to 1967. Not only did he have a significant impact on the sport through his dominating run with the Packers, but he also played a significant role in breaking down stereotypes of people of color and gay players.

Lombardi started coaching as an assistant in high school until he moved to be an assistant coach in college until 1954, when the New York Giants hired him as their offensive coordinator. The Giants found much success, including winning the league championship in 1956. 

Green Bay hired Lombardi in 1959 after former head coach Ray McLean led the team to just a 1-10-1 record. In his first season, he led the Packers to a 7-5 record while winning Coach of the Year. In his nine years as the head coach, he would lead the Packers to five NFL championships, including three in a row, cementing himself as one of the brightest minds in football history.

Lombardi became famous for the offense he ran, called the sweep, favoring players of strength and grit. It worked, as the quarterback would take the snap and hand it to one of the two running backs behind him, who would then run up the middle or cut it outside. This was popularized by running back Paul Horning and fullback Jim Taylor, who were instrumental to the success of the Packers.

When Green Bay hired him, the NFL was still segregated like many other places in the country. However, as Lombardi put it best, he “viewed his players as neither Black nor White, but Packer green.” This was not just on the field either, as the Packers would not be segregated and would not stay in any place that allowed segregation while traveling. Before he arrived, the team only had one player of color: defensive end Nate Borden. By his final year, 13 players of color played for his team, including Hall of Famers cornerback Herb Adderley, linebacker Dave Robinson and safety Willie Wood.

One year after the Packers hired Lombardi, a new football league formed called the American Football League, or the AFL, and quickly became the NFL’s first real rival since the league was founded in 1920. Every draft had top athletes picking between the leagues. Due to a rise in the popularity of the AFL, the leagues decided to hold a game between the two champions. Lombardi’s Packers would make it to both Super Bowls, winning convincingly 35-10 over the Kansas City Chiefs and 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders. Following the second Super Bowl, Lombardi retired from coaching the Packers. In 1970 the two leagues merged, becoming the AFC and NFC as we know them today. 

One year after retirement, Lombardi returned to coach the Washington Commanders in 1969,  leading the team to a 7-5-2 record, including their first winning season since 1955. However, Lombardi suffered from health conditions, and on Thursday, Sept. 3, 1970, he passed away from colon cancer. 

Before Lombardi’s death, the trophy for winning the Super Bowl was just called the World Professional Football Championship Trophy. However, the same year he died, it was changed to the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The move honored not just a great coach but a great leader who did not judge a book by its cover and was instead compassionate to all, which may have been his greatest trait.

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