"What did it meant to raise Lombardi? It's almost indescribable. You're at a loss for words when it happens because it's such a profound moment. Your whole world changes in an instant." —Joe Theismann, football broadcaster and former professional quarterback
Raising Lombardi: What It Takes to Claim Football's Ultimate Prizeby Ross Bernstein, Michael Strahan (Foreword by), Daryl Moose Johnston (Foreword by)
To raise the Vince Lombardi trophy means victory, and victory means surviving the epic journey fraught with peril and adversity that is the game of professional football—a unique life-changing moment that is captured in exciting detail in this collection of sports history. Each year, the National Football League awards the prestigious trophy to the Super
To raise the Vince Lombardi trophy means victory, and victory means surviving the epic journey fraught with peril and adversity that is the game of professional football—a unique life-changing moment that is captured in exciting detail in this collection of sports history. Each year, the National Football League awards the prestigious trophy to the Super Bowl–winning team, an honor that some players will spend an entire career without experiencing. Bestselling sports author Ross Bernstein interviewed more than 100 of the fortunate few from NFL history, both players and coaches, who share the common thread of being championship winners.
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What It Takes to Claim Football's Ultimate Prize
By Ross Bernstein
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2011 Ross Bernstein
All rights reserved.
Being a Champion
Winning the championship is the pinnacle of football success, and when it happens the players' emotions simply take over. In this chapter I wanted to find out just what it meant for them to win it all and to finally become a champion. Each player's journey to get to that point is unique. When the reality of living out a childhood dream finally comes true, however, the emotion is raw, and the tears begin to flow freely. Some laughed, some cried, and some were just still too numb to feel anything. Yes, it was that profound.
WHAT DID IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN A CHAMPIONSHIP?
"It's what you play for. Under Lombardi's reign, that was the only goal that you had, to win that final game. I was fortunate enough to be on two Super Bowl teams in Green Bay, and it meant a great deal. The Packers have a very rich history of winning, and that really motivated us to win."
RB/P, Green Bay Packers, 1966, 1967
"It meant a great deal. I had played in Super Bowl I and lost, so to get a second chance at it and win it, that was a very special and proud moment in my life. We were so determined not to lose it again; we really wanted to redeem ourselves. We had such a great team that year. We had seven Hall of Famers on that team, and there should be a couple more as well. We had a great defense too, one of the best of all time in my book. No doubt about it, we were that good. We all believed in each other too; we really had each other's backs out there. You don't see that all the time in professional sports, but we had that type of camaraderie on that team. Because our defense was that good, we knew that if the offense could hang in there and put up some points, then we would do the rest. We knew that nobody was going to blow us out, so they were going to be close games.
We had to overcome a lot of adversity that year as well. Our quarterback, Len Dawson, got hurt and missed half the season. Mike Livingston played great as his backup though, and it was because of him that we were even in a position to get into the playoffs. So, that was huge for us. We hung on though and made it to the playoffs as a wild-card. From there we had to get past the defending champion Jets in the first round, which was no easy task. I will never forget that game out in New York — it was just a classic. I was so determined to do whatever I could to help my team win. I was a man possessed. I wound up making a couple of big plays, including stuffing [Jets quarterback] Joe Namath on a goal-line bootleg, and was awarded with the game ball afterward. That was a huge honor. Winning that game gave us a whole lot of momentum, and we used that to beat Oakland the next week. Oakland had already beaten us twice that season, but we dug in and took care of business.
Next up were the big bad Purple People Eaters from Minnesota, who we met up with down in New Orleans. We were 14-point underdogs to those guys — talk about feeling disrespected! They thought they were gonna come in and dominate us, and we were not going to have any part of that. We were hungry and just took it to 'em. We played a complete game: offense, defense, and special teams. We scored three quick field goals, and then Mike Garrett scored on a short touchdown run to make it 16–0. Lenny Dawson hit Otis Taylor for a long touchdown late in the game and wound up being named as the MVP of the game. We won, 23–7, and it was pretty amazing. We just believed in ourselves and did it, that's why we earned the right to be Super Bowl champions.
One of the big regrets I have about the Super Bowl came afterward. I had to leave early the next morning with several of my teammates to play in the AFL All-Star Game, which used to be played immediately after the Super Bowl. So we wound up missing the parade and the parties and all of that fun stuff back in Kansas City. Honestly, had I known I was going to miss all of that stuff, I never would have agreed to play in it. I was so dead tired that next day, all I wanted to do was sit back and enjoy my ride in the parade."
DE, Kansas City Chiefs, 1969
"What it means to win an NFL championship is difficult to describe unless you've been through it. I've been on both sides of that fence too, so I would know. I was fortunate enough to win two championships as a player with Baltimore in 1958 and 1959 but then lost one as the head coach of the New England Patriots in 1985 to the Chicago Bears. That was tough. Trust me, winning it is a whole lot better than losing it, that's for sure. To win it is special though. That first one, in '58, it seemed like we didn't come down to earth for several months because it was such a high. It was the pinnacle of your football career, that was for sure. It was just a mountaintop experience, so memorable.
The 1958 championship was historic too, that's why it's now referred to as 'The Greatest Game.' It was so close, right down to the wire. We beat the Giants, 23–17, at Yankee Stadium. Then, on top of that, it went into overtime — which was completely new at that point. Nobody had ever really seen overtime before and didn't really know what it was. That threw a whole different angle on the whole thing; it was so unexpected and so unforgettable. The Giants had a very solid football team. Jim Lee Howell was their head coach, but Vince Lombardi ran their offense, and Tom Landry ran their defense, so to say they were well led would be quite an understatement.
I remember Frank Gifford putting them ahead early in the fourth quarter, but we came back to tie it with about two minutes left in the game. Unitas drove us down with just a few seconds to go, and we were able to tie it on a field goal that sent it to overtime. It was the first overtime game in NFL playoff history. Once the game ended, we all just stood there, expecting it to be a tie, and then the officials said that they were going to flip a coin to see who got the ball in sudden death. New York got the ball first, but we forced them to punt and then proceeded to drive the length of the field. We really wore them down. We then capped the win when Alan Ameche scored on a one-yard touchdown. It was an unbelievable feeling, truly.
Author's Note: Incidentally, during overtime, with the Colts on the Giants 8-yard line and poised to score, a fan ran out onto the field and forced a delay. It would later be revealed that the fan was actually an employee of NBC who had been "ordered to create a distraction because the national television feed had gone dead." Sure enough, by the time they caught the guy and got him off the field, they were able to fix the problem without missing any of the action. Berry, meanwhile, recorded a record 12 receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown in the win.
We won it again the next year too, 31–16, this time at Memorial [Stadium in Baltimore]. The '59 title game was actually very close until one key play midway through the game. The defining moment in it came when Johnny Unitas went back to pass, only to see that his No. 1 and No. 2 receivers were both covered. So, he scrambled and drilled Lenny Moore, our No. 3 receiver, on a slant pass, and he busted loose for a 60+ yard touchdown that broke the game open. That was the turning point in the game, no doubt about it. It was a heckuva game though, that was for sure.
I think to fully understand why we won those two magical seasons, you have to first go back and look at the 1957 season. We were in our third year of coming together as a team that season and had been gaining confidence. I think a defining moment for us that season came on our West Coast swing, where we lost to both the Rams and the 49ers. It really stung —. I mean our guys were very upset. To lose two games that we never should have lost got to us, and we channeled that frustration the following season. And even though we didn't make it to the championship game, we felt that we were better than both of the finalists, Detroit and Cleveland. So, we came into training camp that next season with a whole bunch of confidence and with a real awareness that we could in fact go all the way."
WR, Baltimore Colts, 1958, 1959
"It meant everything. That was what I played my football career for — an opportunity to win a championship. So, raising the Lombardi Trophy meant that I was now officially a champion. As soon as I could, I grabbed it and kissed it and raised it up to the fans in Detroit, my hometown. That was where I was born and raised, so that was my way of saying thanks to all of those people who had supported me through the years. I wanted to make sure that they had a chance to see it in my hands, up close and personal. I wanted them to share in my proudest moment as a player. You know, I think I had 40-some friends and family there, so not only was it a special day for me, it was an expensive day for me. Trust me, I played for free that day! Whatever Super Bowl bonus money I made that day, it went for tickets! For me, though, winning that game in Detroit against the Seahawks, that also meant that the journey was over. I retired right then and there out on the field, while I was holding that beautiful trophy.
We had lost in the AFC Championship Game the year before, and I was so bummed out after that. I just did not want my career to end on that note so I decided to come back for one more season and give it one last try. Thank God I did. I wanted to go out as a champion, and fortunately that was how it all worked out. It was everything that I had ever dreamed of. It was the perfect culmination of a career. I was finally able to achieve the ultimate goal that I had never been able to attain prior to that. So, for me it was really a special moment on a lot of different levels.
Once we got to the AFC Championship Game, my teammates were using my potential homecoming as their rallying cry. They wanted to get to Detroit so I could go out on top — that was pretty neat. They wanted to take me home, and that was our mantra, "We gotta take the Bus home...." I still get goose bumps thinking about it. One of the funniest things I remember about that day happened right before the game when we all ran out onto the field. Usually we all run out together as a team, but since I was from Detroit, Joey Porter pulled me aside right before we were set to go out there and told me that he wanted me to lead us out. I said 'Okay, no problem.' He said he would be right behind me. I figured, cool, this would be fun. So, I went flying out there, trying to fire up my teammates, fully expecting them to be right behind me. Only when I looked back, they were nowhere to be seen. I was like, 'Oh my God, what do I do?' I looked back into the tunnel and could see them all in there, and I was like, 'Come on ... please!' Finally, they came running out there, and all I could do was laugh. Looking back, it was pretty special to be out there all alone like that, but I never would have done it had I known that they were going to pull that on me. I remember though, just looking up in the stands and feeling so proud to be back in my hometown. I will never forget that moment for as long as I live. To see all those Terrible Towels, I just knew that we were going to win that day.
My most memorable moment from the Super Bowl was turning out the lights in the locker room after everybody else had left. I ran across the street and did an interview with Jimmy Kimmel right after the game and didn't get back until late. So, by the time I got showered up everybody was gone. I was the last guy in there, and it was really symbolic of my career, because my career was over at that point. I was turning off the lights. It was a magical season and something I will never forget. What a ride."
RB, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2005
"What does winning it mean? I think the biggest thing is the way that people perceive you now, after you have won it. People have asked me how my life has changed since winning it. I think about it, and I still approach every day the exact same way, and my priorities are still the same. I feel like the same person; I don't feel like I am doing anything differently. Yet, the way people talk to you, talk about you, just perceive you overall is different. I think that there is a higher level of respect."
QB, New Orleans Saints, 2009
"The best part of it for me is the idea that this group of young men, who came together and believed in themselves, bought the team concept completely, took the names off the back of the jerseys, checked the egos at the door. The reinforcement for team is the greatest source of satisfaction for me. I told the players last night — and I had stayed away from any personal refrain because I didn't think it was proper timing, but last night it was. I told them about my experience in 1990, when you realize that you are the world champion. Other than your family and your children and those type of things, professionally, there is no comparison to the feeling. You could walk around six feet high, and it would be appropriate for our players. When you stop and think about Michael Strahan, when you stop and think about Jeff Feagles; Jeff in his 20th year and only six times in the playoffs. You start to think about all our veteran guys who now are world champions and are experiencing that feeling for the first time, reinforcing the concept of team, that's the greatest thing for me."
Head Coach, New York Giants, 2007
"It was a childhood dream. I had watched that moment so many times before on TV, sitting on the couch, when the winning players all celebrate out on the field with all the confetti coming down. So, when it happened to me, it was totally surreal. I was just so proud of our guys. The way we overcame so many injuries and then won on the road in the playoffs, it was incredible. Then, to beat Pittsburgh the way we did, in such a thrilling game, I'll never forget it. The whole experience was just magical."
K, Green Bay Packers, 2010
"Even as a child I was obsessed with being a member of the best team. The New York Yankees were my favorite team as a kid because they were the best. As such, my dream was to pitch for the Yankees and win a World Series. I was consumed with that dream and spent all day every day pitching a baseball, constantly practicing. When I came up short as the starting pitcher for my College Park [Georgia] high school team at the state finals my junior year, I finally came to the realization that if I couldn't win there, then I was probably going to have a tough time against the Dodgers. So, I took up football instead. Not in my wildest dreams, however, did I think that I would be playing for the Green Bay Packers in the first-ever Super Bowl. What a feeling — it was incredible. We had actually won the NFL title the year before, so this made it back-to-back championships for me. It was such a thrill. What a privilege to play for Coach Lombardi and to be a part of such an incredible team. To have that sense of belonging to a group of individuals who were the greatest in the world, that was it for me. It was as if that childhood quest had been fulfilled. I would win another Super Bowl several years later with the Baltimore Colts, and believe it or not, that feeling of being the best has never left me. That's why I continue to coach today. I love teaching young people in the classroom and on the field about what it takes to not only be a loyal teammate, but about being the best. So, looking back, winning those championships was huge to that young Bill Curry. Just huge. Words can't describe how impactful it was on me. It was life changing, it really was."
C, Green Bay Packers, 1965, 1966; Baltimore Colts, 1970
Excerpted from Raising Lombardi by Ross Bernstein. Copyright © 2011 Ross Bernstein. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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Meet the Author
Ross Bernstein is the bestselling author of nearly 50 sports books and has been featured on CNN and ESPN as well as in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and USA TODAY. He is an internationally recognized motivational speaker. He lives in Eagan, Minnesota.
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