When pride still mattered A life of Vince Lombardi

David Maraniss

Book - 1999

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BIOGRAPHY/Lombardi, Vince
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New York : Simon & Schuster c1999.
Physical Description
541 p., [24] p. of plates : ill
Includes bibliographical references (p. [505]-518) and index.
Main Author
David Maraniss (-)
Review by Booklist Review

Lombardi, whose Green Bay Packers dominated professional football in the early 1960s, was arguably the greatest NFL coach ever, despite a relatively short career ended by his death from cancer in 1970. Maraniss, who won a Pulitzer for his Washington Post articles on presidential candidate Bill Clinton, looks beyond Lombardi's surface image of single-minded determination and devotion to discipline to reveal a man whose essence was . . . single-minded determination and devotion to discipline. There was no pretense and very little subtext to Vince Lombardi. He was devoted to family, God, and football, and if he had a failing, it was to reverse the order occasionally. As Maraniss reveals, he was a mediocre father and a loving but distracted workaholic husband. If there is any revelation here, it comes in Maraniss' treatment of the relationship between Lombardi and his wife, Marie, who was unhappy with her secondary position in her husband's life and, in response, became a problem drinker. This is a carefully researched, often poignant, three-dimensional biography. In an era where image is usually synonymous with illusion, it is refreshing to realize that Lombardi, whose private and public selves were so similar, was a man of substance and depth. --Wes Lukowsky

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In the history of American sports, no coach has been mythologized as much as the Green Bay Packers' Vince Lombardi (who has been immortalized with, among other tributes, a rest station on the New Jersey Turnpike). Yet this fine biography from a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Washington Post is a blast of cool air among the usually overheated roster of sports biographies. From Lombardi's formative years as a player and coach at Fordham University through assistantships with West Point and the Giants and, finally, to his tenure as head coach of the Packers, Maraniss presents a portrait of a complicated human being who was a great teacher but a mediocre listener, an effective psychologist despite being rife with flaws. Though he often got hurt as a college athlete, Lombardi, as a coach, scorned players who couldn't withstand injury. His relationship with his wife and children was less than ideal. But Maraniss doesn't succumb to any reductive assessments of Lombardi as "tragic" or "heroic." As legend suggests, Lombardi was indeed a great motivator, but his success also derived from a cerebral approach to the game. The book's true punch comes from its myriad subplots: a hero from one small town (early 20th-century Brooklyn) revitalizing another in the Upper Midwest, or professional football and Lombardi coming into their own at roughly the same time. Maraniss spends far too much time on people and events whose influence on Lombardi isn't made apparent, and he relies too much on other sportswriters' descriptions of games. Yet like its subject, the book, for all its flaws, is intricate, ambitious and satisfying. First serial to Vanity Fair. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Clinton biographer Maraniss's rich, resonant, and grown-up biography of Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi is full of the kind of surprises good research can yield (e.g., his New York butcher father had work and play stenciled philosophically on his hands). The book transcends the sports world, much as its iconic subject eventually did. (LJ 8/99) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Though his subjects could not seem more different, Pulitzer Prize'winning Washington Post reporter Maraniss finds in Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi as compelling and paradoxical a leader as Bill Clinton (First in His Class, 1995) . Like prior biographies, such as Michael O'Brien's Vince (1987), Maraniss's covers Lombardi's childhood as the son of a Brooklyn butcher, college playing career as one of Fordham's 'Seven Blocks of Granite,' apprentice coaching at a small New Jersey high school called St. Cecilia's, West Point, and the New York Giants, the five championships with the Packers in the '60s, and the last year with the Washington Redskins before dying from colon cancer in 1970. What else can be written about a coach who seemed to symbolize the best and worst of professional sports? As it turns out, quite a bit. Maraniss's coach is less self-confident than the martinet of myth, more aware that his rage, while the source of his success, is also sinful and self-destructive. Lombardi could play the father figure more convincingly to his lockerroom band than he could with his wife, a secret drinker, and his children, whom he neglected. Frightened by the anarchy he saw in the late 1960s, he became a favorite of businessmen and conservative Republicans because of his belief that sports builds character. His private actions might have surprised his admirers, however. On the negative side, he was not afraid to ask John Kennedy (whom he warmly supported) to defer stars Paul Hornung and Ray Nitschke from active duty in the army. More positively, he practiced quiet toleration, both of blacks and gays. In addition, Maraniss sensitively analyzes the influence of the coach's zealous Catholicism on his work, and paints extraordinarily vivid tableaus. From the myth of this model of order, loyalty, and victory, Maraniss has fashioned a richly complicated counterlife of a sports icon committed to and consumed by the quest for perfection. (First serial to Vanity Fair)

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.