A Look Back at How Vince Lombardi Launched a Dynasty

That Great First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set it on the Path to Glory by John Eisenberg
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2009
ISBN 13: 978-0-618-90499-0

Much as been written about Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers dynasty of the 1960’s, but John Eisenberg’s book is the first to provide details about Vince Lombardi’s first season with the Green Bay Packers.

When Lombardi took over as head coach Green Bay was a losing team with a culture of losing, and even quitting, in games.  He was starting at ground zero with a group of players who were used to and even accepted losing.  Once a team establishes a culture of losing it is extremely difficult to break it out of that cycle.  Losing becomes a habit and it becomes acceptable.

But it was not acceptable to Vince Lombardi.  After taking over the head coaching duties prior to the 1959 season Lombardi wondered what he had gotten into after watching game film of this woeful team.

Through punishing practices and motivational tactics more akin to an Army drill sergeant than a professional football coach, Lombardi made it clear to his players that losing was not acceptable and he was gong to work them out of it, literally.  His practices were brutal affairs and his drive for perfection a tangible force.

While that first season ended with a mediocre 7-5 record, Lombardi accomplished one amazing feat.  The Green Bay Packers were no longer losers and quitters.  Instead Lombardi established the mental and physical groundwork for the dynasty yet to come.

The most amazing thing about Lombardi’s feat is he turned the team around with essentially the same players who were so woeful before.  Normally a team breaking out of losing streak essentially has to clean house and build from scratch.  Not Lombardi.  He worked, cajoled, intimidated, and rebuilt this team from the inside out turning a can’t do mentality into a can do winning one.  And that is why Lombardi is praised as possibly being one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport.

Lombardi also made some key decisions that propelled the team forward.  He finally settled on future Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr as his starter for the future.  He created an offensive attack that utilized the unique talents of Paul Hornung instead of trying to turn him into a power running back, letting Jim Taylor handle those duties.  And he helped players like offensive linemen Jerry Kramer, Forrest Gregg, and Fuzzy Thurston advance from good to great.  And by practicing the bread and butter plays, especially the sweep, until it was second nature, he made the game more simple for his offensive players, and difficult to stop for opponents.

This is a well written book where you get the inside story of that first year from many of the players of that era, like Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, and Jerry Kramer.  Fans of professional football should enjoy this look back at how Vince Lombardi launched a dynasty.


That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory

Great Inside Look at The 1967 Green Bay Packers

9780307486325_9780307486325Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer
Review by C. Douglas Baker

I’m a big professional football fan and love reading about football. Jerry Kramer’s Green Bay Packers diary – which details the 1967 season of the Green Packers, was quite an enjoyable and educational read for me.

For starters, the Green Bay Packers in 1967 were clearly the best team in pro football but were showing signs of aging. This season saw the infamous Ice Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Championship where Jerry Kramer threw a key block to get Bart Starr in for a touchdown, securing a trip to Super Bowl II. And of course this year also saw the Packers win its second straight Super Bowl and the legendary coach Vince Lombari’s retirement from the Green Bay Packers.

Kramer’s diary is pretty much just that – a retelling of what he went through during the 1967 season. Some things are familiar. Don’t let the hyperbole or nostalgia fool you, money WAS a big issue in professional football back then even if the contracts were not that large. Kramer talks a lot about money and business issues in his book.

Kramer also tells us a bit about what it was like to be a player under Coach Lombardi who drove the players relentlessly and made them better than they otherwise would have been both as individuals and a team.

The players clearly had a love-hate, father-son relationship with the coach. Also, some of the stories about the playboys on the team like Max McGee and Paul Hornung are humorous. In today’s NFL it seems the shenanigans of players involve guns and criminality. On this team, it was just booze and chicks, good old boys having fun.

And of course it was interesting to see how Kramer thought of the upcoming opponents – both individuals and teams – as he prepared to face them.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of the book is a bit of introspection on Kramer’s part. He was an older player (31), by football standards, and feeling it. He often wondered why he went through the pain of pro football and it mainly came down to a simple fact – he was a football player. While he didn’t define himself totally by football, in essence that is what he felt he was. Of course the money and the championships made it worth it.

Overall I would definitely recommend this book to professional football fans.

 Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer