“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
Although people who knew him said legendary pro football coach Vince Lombardi never actually uttered those words, they appear to be true.
I don’t often write about sports on this blog, although I used to be a sportswriter. But the firing of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice for shouting obscene things at his players, hitting and pushing them and throwing basketballs at their heads, has brought this into perspective.
I don’t mean to condone Rice. His tactics were as deplorable as they were ineffective (he won only 44 of 95 games as the school’s coach). He deserved to be fired.
But the NFL names its championship trophy after Vince Lombardi. Using any similar measuring stick, his tactics as head coach of the Green Bay Packers weren’t much different.
He was verbally abusive. And while he perhaps didn’t lay his hands on his players, he either browbeat or shamed them into playing with injuries.
Here’s an excerpt from a Baltimore Sun piece by Bill Glauber on Lombardi (read the entire piece by clicking here):
“Lombardi was a perfectionist who would not accept mental errors. His views on physical pain were perhaps the most controversial aspect of his reign. When Marv Fleming broke a bone in his foot, Lombardi said the tight end could play, because the break did not occur on a weight-bearing bone. Lombardi was brutal, but he also coolly judged which players he could push, and which players he could not. He urged (Paul) Hornung to play with strained knee ligaments and claimed defensive end Lionel Aldridge was “loafing” because he had not run a week after having a cast removed from a broken leg.”
Does knowing which players would respond to abuse and which wouldn’t make the tactic any better?
What’s the obvious difference between Lombardi and Rice? Lombardi won championships, of course.
Need more perspective? Why is it that as I watch the NCAA basketball tournament I’m periodically treated to funny commercials featuring former Indiana coach Bobby Knight?
He was fired after a career filled with abuses, both at practice and during games. He then went to Texas Tech and did much the same.
But Knight was a winner. That’s why we not only see him in commercials, we laugh when those commercials play off of one of his uglier public tantrums, when he lost his temper and threw a chair onto the court during a game.
He also choked one of his players, Neil Reed, which was caught on film.
If you win, your tantrums can be used as a part of sales pitches on commercials. If you lose, you’re just a social pariah.
Nike is being criticized for a new ad campaign featuring Tiger Woods and alluding to his extra-marital affairs. “Winning takes care of everything,” it says.
Sadly, that appears to be true.