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Coach Lombardi goes to Washington

Vince Lombardi statue at Lombardi Field
Vince Lombardi statue at Lombardi Field
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Vince Lombardi was desolate and lost. Following his retirement after his third straight championship coaching the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi relinquished himself to General Manager duties. It was a position he quickly learned he could not handle. Lombardi was hands-on all the time. To be exiled from coaching was to be exiled from life.

Many felt that Lombardi would go into politics to fill his football void. First there was a push for him to become the governor of Wisconsin, and then came a possible presidential ticket invitation from Richard Nixon. Even rumors of becoming the new commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Aside from all the speculation, Lombardi sealed his fate when the Packers finished 1968 with they're first losing season in ten years. Coach Lombardi was rested, and put himself back on the market.

Perhaps a contradiction to the loyalty he demanded, Lombardi would not return to the Packers. To do so would be a slight to the man he chose to replace him, his longtime assistant coach Phil Bengston. It was a moral dilemma to which there was no perfect solution. If there was, Lombardi would have found it.

As Lombardi himself said, "I made a horrible mistake when I stepped out of coaching, but to go back to it in Green Bay would have hurt people".

The offers came pouring in. He was courted by the New Orleans Saints, where his former players Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung had gone to finish their careers. The New England Patriots came calling, as did the Atlanta Falcons offering a one million dollar package to lead their team.

Lombardi was interested in team equity. He was rumored to be heading a group to take over the Philadelphia Eagles who were on the verge of bankruptcy. Another rumor also emerged out of Northern Virginia, right outside of Washington D.C. where a man by the name of Lombardi had purchased a home. As it turned out, there is more than just one man with the last name of Lombardi.

Washington Redskins Owner Edward Bennett Williams was desperate and Vince Lombardi was eager. The two had formed a relationship during 1968 when Lombardi was left with too much time on his hands. As a result on February 6th, 1969 the Redskins announced "The Second Coming".

Vince Lombardi was now head coach, general manager, and five-percent owner of the Washington Redskins. Perhaps what enticed Lombardi the most however, was Washington D.C. itself. Lombardi was a New Yorker at heart. The District was where all the leaders were. It was a place where change for good could be made, and would be a gift for his wife Marie, whom yearned for the social scene city life offered.

Lombardi emerged in front of the press for the first time at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel. His first words were representative of the challenge ahead. "In spite of what you've heard, I can't walk on water. Not even on the Potomac". Despite his bluntness and humility, I'm not so sure he was able to convince Redskins fans he was only human.

Vince Lombardi turned the Green Bay Packers into a winner his first season as head coach leading them to a 7-5 record. It was their first winning season in eleven years. Likewise in Washington, the Redskins finished the 1969 season with a 7-5-2. It was their first winning season in an astonishing fifteen years.

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