When Pride Still Mattered -Scott’s take on the story of Vince Lombardi

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When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss is a biography on Vince Lombardi, arguably the greatest football coach who ever lived.

He is best-known for his coaching career with the Green Bay Packers that included seven NFL and/or Super Bowl titles in nine seasons.

There are a lot of stories and descriptions about his life, his family relationships, how he interacted with his players and his obsession with winning.  Not all of it was so good.

Image meant a lot to him.  As an example, he required the Packers to wear sport coats on their road trips, much to the players’ chagrin.  He said they needed to look professional to be professional.

He was adamant about “team coming first,” even if it was against the law and/or public opinion.  In the segregated ‘50s, he told restaurants, bars and hotels, “You accept all the Green Bay Packers, or none of them.”

When Pride Still Mattered is certainly NOT about public relations – but there’s a lot of public relations in it.

In addition to the legendary teamwork, winning, leading and charismatic quotes and lessons, the book is filled with numerous references to PR.

  • Between seasons when he was still a college coach, Lombardi held a PR position with Federation Bank and Trust, now Citibank.

 

  • Paul Horning, who starred with the Packers from 1957-1966 and won the Heisman Trophy while at Notre Dame in 1956, confided that in ‘56, Tommy McDonald at Oklahoma deserved the Heisman Trophy:  “We had the best publicity guy in the world.  Everybody loved Charley Callahan. All the sportswriters knew him.”  And they voted for Horning.

 

  • The team publicists for every team Lombardi was associated with are mentioned by name as they wielded a lot of power.

 

  • While the sports teams had tremendously-friendly relationships with the media, including memberships at the same clubs and regular card and golf games, Lombardi could have used media training.  He had to get his courage up every day to be a public figure; the witty chatter and glad-handing did not come easy for him.

And, one sports writer commented while trying to write a book about Lombardi:  “No matter how the question, the answer came back flat.  The Day One session went on with all the depth of a hospital clerk taking information for an insurance form.”

And there is some insight into maybe the greatest PR visionary in sports history:  Pete Rozelle.

In 1960, Rozelle, “the young publicity wizard who had made the Los Angeles Rams a glittering West Coast enterprise,” became commissioner of the NFL.  Rozelle had revolutionary plans for promoting and selling his league on television…

“As the ‘60s began, the writing press was still struggling with the fact that major sports events were not just for the scribes in the press box and the fans in the stands.”  There was an emerging medium:  TV.

“Rozelle believed he could make the game endlessly exciting… by accommodating and integrating the television and print media, encouraging them to promote the new professional ideology.

“Publicity efforts were coordinated by the league office.  There were standard rules for press releases, statistics, and press conferences. Story lines were conceived in New York and pushed around the country.”

That was 50 years ago and the NFL is enjoying its highest popularity ever, with PR helping it establish a rock solid foundation.

Scott Hanson
Scott Hanson
President Scott is president of HMA Public Relations and a founding member of the Public Relations Global Network. He’s a Phoenix native, husband, father of two and a fan of all sports and a participant in some. Check out Scott's full bio

2 Comments

  1. One more thing about the media from When Pride Still Mattered:

    As Lombardi was on his deathbed with cancer…

    “Again there was no public announcement of his condition. He was said to be “resting comfortably,” but beyond that, at the family’s request, there would be no comment. His fatal condition was an open secret among journalists in Washington, yet it was never reported. The most famous coach in America, the head coach of the local pro football team, was dying in a nearby hospital, and not one word of it in the newspapers or on the airwaves.”

    …”those were still the days when the media would respect the wishes of family and friends, and self-censor the news.”

  2. Stephanie Lough says:

    Interesting point, but I think a lot of people would be offended if news like that wasn’t shared today. Think of the out-pour of support for Steve Jobs. While certainly the media should respect the privacy of family and friends, sharing the news can help bring attention to a disease that may need more research. It can also be humbling to a large organization and show its human side.

    I know I wouldn’t like it if a public figure I admired took a hiatus to later learn they passed. In a way, it goes with the rule of transparency. The public doesn’t like feeling left out. Even if you don’t actually know the person, hard-core fans will want closure, be it laying flowers by the hospital, sharing stories (which would be easier today on FB), etc. Just as long as the media stay away from the funeral and services and lets the family grieve.

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