top of page

The Catholic Defender: Vince Lombardi, Devout Catholic, Lived his Faith

Professional football took a huge hit last year because of the disrespecting of the American Flag, the Troops, and our National Anthem. I'm hoping that 2018 will be a better year as the sport has traditionally been an American past time. This coming year, the United States all across America each weekend could be glued to all the games. Lot’s of pizza, finger foods, beer (for some), for me Dr. Pepper.

Like many others, I too am very excited as my Kansas City Chiefs are still hoping to win a Superbowl. I'm not sure we did the right thing trading Alex Smith so soon, we shall see how this goes? Not only does my childhood team have potential of finally winning in the playoffs, my college team (Alabama) is seeking a sixth national championship in a ten year period.

So, as you can tell, I have been hit with the current football playoffs fever. And the Temperature is rising as my Chiefs will be heading to New England again next year. We have a tough schedule next year, but we are hopeful we can advance.

One thing I will notice today, I am seeing women taking to the sport of football, this is new to me. In watching ESPN, there are a lot of women commentators that really give good analysis, I might be at the Dollar store to pick up something and I’ll strike up a conversation with someone about Alabama or the professional playoffs, and women are just as involved.

Even my wife is catching fire for football! That is a miracle in itself!!!

A couple of years ago, Alabama won the National Championship beating Clemson 45 to 40 in one of the greatest college game finals ever. Last year Alabame won the Championship against Georgia with an overtime win!

I recently learned that one of the biggest names in football, probably regarded as one of the greatest coaches of all time, Vince Lombardi, was a very devout Catholic, he would receive daily Communion because of his commitment to Jesus Christ and His Church.

Vince Lombardi was born in Brooklyn New York on June 11, 1913 to a strong Catholic Italian family, he was the eldest of five siblings.

Both Vince Lombardi’s parents were strong, faithful Catholics, his Father, Enrico “Harry” Lombardi (1889–1971) went to Mass daily. Vince Lombardi as a young boy would first serve as an Altar Boy at St. Marks Catholic Church.

So Vince was brought up on a healthy diet of Faith, family, and football, what I call the three “F’s”! Vince Lombardi first began his coaching career at St. Cecilia Catholic High School in Englewood New Jersey (1939) and by 1947, he began coaching at Fordham (the United States Military Academy-West Point).

Because of his strong Catholic background, he held a high standard for discipline, dedication, and excellence for his students. In 1954, Vince Lombardi began his professional career in the National Football League (NFL) with the New York Giants that was a 3 win 9 loss record the year before and by 1956, the Giants had a winning record.

It was here that Lombardi developed a new blocking procedure that radically changed the NFL, he called “running to daylight”.

This simply gave an offensive linemen the ability to move and block someone instead of the guy in from of him. At the time this was radical, but it allowed running backs to follow their blocks and find openings.

Finally, in 1959, Vince Lombardi went to the Green Bay Packers, who at the time was a struggling team. What enticed Lombardi to go to Green Bay was their strong Catholic environment.

Perhaps there could be a higher reason that Lombardi would be going to Green Bay as exactly 100 years before, 1859, the Virgin Mary appeared in Wisconsin not far from Green Bay.

The Catholic Church officially recognized this event on December 8, 2010. This event is the only Marian Apparition that is recognized in the United States.

I have affectionately and with humility, thought that Mother Mary could be literally the founder of the movement known and called the “cheese heads” who are the fans of the Packers.

As coach of the Green Bay Packers (1959-1967) in a seven year span, the Packers won five total NFL championships to include two Superbowls winning the first two. His impact on the game of football is seen today just about everywhere.

Every team seeks to win a Superbowl and win the “Lombardi trophy” an honorary trophy of the Superbowl named after Vince Lombardi.

I remember those first Superbowls, my Kansas City Chiefs lost the first Superbowl (1966) to Vince Lombardy and the Packers 35 to 10.

This was at a unique time in American football as there were a lot of friction between the NFL and the American Football League (AFL).

With the 1970 Kansas City victory over the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Superbowl IV, the merger began that separated the leagues, the NFL became the NFC and the AFL became the AFC.

The respective winners of each “Conference” will play in the Superbowl, and my Kansas City Chiefs are still in the hunt! Hopefully, I simplified what is taking place in the world of American football and why there is so much excitement.

Vince Lombardi would live long enough to see my Chiefs win the Superbowl January 1970. When you look at the whole person, their character, their heart, their foundation, what a great example that Vince Lombardi gave to his Catholic Community and the football world.

Hero’s of the faith come from all parts of society, Vince Lombardi died of cancer at age 57, September 3, 1970. On his deathbed, Lombardi told his Catholic Priest, Father Tim, that he was not afraid to die.

His love for Jesus and Mary gave him great comfort surrounded by his family. In 1971, Vince Lombardi was inducted in the National Football League Hall of Fame.

As Catholics, we have a great Hall of Fame given to the Saints of God, and what great hope we have because of our Catholic Faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2 states, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The Catholic Church sees faith as a journey and what a journey of faith we see in Vince Lombardi, strong Catholic Family, Altar Boy, thought about the priesthood, what a great example and legacy he left.

As a military leader, I taught the importance of leading by example. I love 1 Peter 5:1-5, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory."

Likewise you that are younger be subject to the elders.

bottom of page