"When Pride Still Mattered" is the quintessential story of the American family: how Vince Lombardi, the son of an immigrant Italian butcher, rose to the top, and how his character and will to prevail transformed him, his wife, his children, his players, his sport, and ultimately the entire country. It is also a vibrant football story, abundant with accounts of Lombardi's thrilling life in that world, from his playing days with the Seven Blocks of Granite at Fordham in the 1930s to the glory of coaching the Green Bay Packers of Starr, Hornung, Taylor, McGee, Davis, and Wood in the 1960s. It is also a study of national myths, tracing what Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer David Maraniss calls the fallacy of the innocent past, and an absorbing account of the mythmakers from Grantland Rice to Howard Cosell who shaped Lombardi's image.
Vincent Thomas Lombardi was born in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, on June 11, 1913. His early life was shaped by the trinity of family, religion, and sports; they seemed intertwined, as inseparable to him as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He was deeply influenced by the Jesuits, who taught him the philosophy he later used with his players, subordinating individual desires to a larger cause. The geography of his rise was the opposite of the small-town boy who makes it in the big city. This son of New York did not achieve fame until he took a job in remote Green Bay, Wisconsin. Before that, he had toiled anonymously for twenty years, first as a high school coach in New Jersey, then as an assistant at Fordham, at West Point (under the influential Colonel "Red" Blaik), and finally with the New York Giants. He was already forty-six when he was finally hired to coachthe hapless Packers in 1959, leading them in the most storied period in NFL history, winning five world championships in nine seasons.
By the time he died of cancer in 1970, after one season in Washington during which he transformed the Redskins into winners, Lombardi had become a mythic character who transcended sport, and his legend has only grown in the decades since. Many now turn to Lombardi in search of characteristics that they fear have been irretrievably lost, the old-fashioned virtues of discipline, obedience, loyalty, character, and teamwork. To others he symbolizes something less romantic: modern society's obsession with winning and superficial success. In "When Pride Still Mattered," Maraniss renders Lombardi as flawed and driven yet ultimately misunderstood, a heroic figure who was more complex and authentic than the stereotypical images of him propounded by admirers and critics.
Using the same meticulous reporting and sweeping narrative style that he employed in "First in His Class," his classic biography of Bill Clinton, Maraniss separates myth from reality and wondrously recaptures Vince Lombardi's life and times.