Who's Your Pick?

"The Character is Higher than the Intellect." - Vince Lombardi

The Vince Lombardi Trophy will be awarded to tomorrow's Superbowl victor. He is the sport's greatest coach.

In his early life, he contemplated being a priest and then an attorney. His football writings, actions, and talks are sprinkled with indirect references to Christianity as when he tells his team they "will pursue, with every ounce of effort in their bodies, pure perfection, knowing full well perfection is not achievable in this life, but in the afterlife. But, we will pursued it with dogged determination."

Players responded to his goodness. On the field he was beyond driven, but did nothing out of malice or deceit. His passion was to improve his players, and to build or expose their character. They trusted him and responded.

Fourteen Green Bay players he inherited from his predecessor became either All Pro or Hall of Fame caliber. The year before Vince arrived, the Packers recorded one win and eleven losses. In his first season, the Pac won seven and proceeded to win five NFL championships included the first two Superbowls.

The president of one of my international clients gave me a Lombardi book. It includes a DVD with a famous speech he delivered at the Waldorf Astoria. In the speech, Lombardi states, regarding personal, organizational, and social success: "the character is higher than the intellect." Vince was referring to sacrifice, courage, collaboration, and goodness; being honest, selfless, and self critical.

Tomorrow's Super Bowl will test this supposition. By most accounts, Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers' star quarterback, is a bully. He reportedly demeans hotel staff and support people. He settled two recent aggravated sexual assault cases against women out of court.

I am tired of bullies, people in powerful positions who use their status for selfish ends, getting the last laugh. We've seen it with the recent banking crisis, where heads of banks and their boards played roulette with their investments, were on the brink of failure, and walked away with bonuses underwritten by us, the taxpayers. They lie, are selfish, and narcissistic; behaviors opposite to those celebrated with Lombardi.

2010 was a wonderful football year for me. I attended two NFL games; the Jets vs. the Packers at the new Jets / Giants stadium and the Jets at the Pats on a Monday night. During our annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage to NYC, I saw a play on Lombardi. While watching actor Dan Lauria's excellent depiction of Coach Lombardi, I thought of my hall of fame high school coach, Ted Monica.

Coach is a Lombardi disciple and a Korean War Purple Heart. In fact, he knew and worked with Vince Lombardi and administered the Packers' draft efforts for over twenty years. He, like coach Lombardi, had an uncanny ability to muster courage, sacrifice, and a collaborative, or team, effort to raise performance to unexpected heights. We proved it.

The picture above shows us, the 1980 senior class members, commemorating receiving the 1979 Star Ledger Trophy, recognizing NJ's top high school football team. We are the only Group II sized school to ever earn this distinction. This picture shows the recognition celebration during a home football game halftime this past September.

Our class of seniors never experienced a loss and finished our varsity careers with a perfect, 33-0-0, record. We'd gathered for our 30th high school graduation reunion. Our famed coach joined us. In addition, I spent time with the Monicas before and after this celebration and experienced the warmth usually present only with beloved family members. Vince Lombardi was also the first coach to state the critical element in team success is spirit, or charity, or brotherly love connecting teammates.

From my lineman's dream touchdown, to defeating a team loaded with superstars the day after I buried my mom, to starting on three consecutive undefeated championships and never losing a high school game, to reconnecting a friend with his 1977 Madison Championship ring thirty years after he earned it, Coach Monica's Character and Charity have been a beacon in elevating and sustaining me and my hope leaders beat bullies as goodness beats evil.

So, it will be interesting to see if Vince's postulate on character plays true. The Steelers are loaded with gifted football players, including Roethlisberger. Being a champion, based on Lombardi's teachings, requires more than talent. Will the force of Vince Lombardi's considerable aura allow the Lombardi Trophy to be handed to someone whose behaviors essentially mock its namesake?

Stay tuned, Sunday, 6:29 PM. Enjoy the game.


Anonymous said…
Excellent article Matt. Very inspiring. Jim Agresti
Hi Matt,
It is good to see someone keeping important things in front of us these days. And character is something that one doesn't hear much about any more. I felt all those good things coming from you I was in the Brown program on Management. Thank you for outlining the qualities that made Vince Lombardi great. I appreciate reading about him. Pat T.
Julie York Poling said…
Great article, Matt. I have tremendous respect for Vince Lombardi. Today, however, I will be rooting for the Steelers. I was born in Pittsburgh and have been a fan my whole life. Go Steelers!
Anonymous said…
Well said, Matt. Freedom of speach is not free and I'm inspired when someone uses it regardless of whether people like it or will agree. I've been a Vince Lombardi and a Packers fan for a long time (once carrying my lucky cheese head find all the way back to Portland, OR after a sales call). My current leader/coach, Chuck Deem, has been a friend and colleague of yours for decades and I am lucky and honored to have the pleasure of his coaching & mentorship. I know you and Vince have inspired and helped develop him and I'm grateful to be one of the recipients of the hard fought character of which you speak. I hope you continue to do great things and encourage others to do the same. Go Packers! S. Garrison
Matt Paknis said…
Thanks for your comments Jim, Pat, Julie, and Stephanie.

It will be a good game, with somewhat of a morality play, very interested to see how it will play out.


Unknown said…
Matt - great article! You know I have a bias toward the military, and there's alot of similarly analogous lessons with military leaders I've had the honor of serving with. Character, integrity, and honor is everything. Capability is second. I'd take a person with the former any day - I can help with the latter. Unfortunately, in many cases like those you define in your piece, capability comes first often at overtly ignoring flaws in character, integrity and honor. Great piece - thanks for sharing, and we all know now who won (even though, admittedly, I was rooting for the Steelers!).
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the inspiration and photos, Matt. Coach Monica's influence on my life is never ending, he had a way of making you believe in the team and yourself...

I just always believed we would win, and not like your class, but we pretty much did win. Losing was not an alternative. Believing is more than half that battle.

I'm living in Chico, CA home of Aaron Rodgers, who has those character qualities you mention; high integrity, few words, lets his actions speak for him on the field.

Like Vince Lombardi said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." By that he meant giving it your all in football, as in life, is the only thing. You win when you give it your all with spirit and integrity, not necessarily the game, but your life.

(Another Coach Monica lesson instilled from 3 amazing years of playing under his guidance.)
Declan Dunn said…
Hey Matt,
I posted anonymously by accident...thanks again.
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