Bringing the Big Game to Vince Lombardi's Backyard
Opinion, North Jersey Record, January 21, 2014
ON Feb. 2, Super Bowl XLVIII will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. That's just a few miles south of the Vince Lombardi Service Area on the New Jersey Turnpike. The winner of that game will be presented with a trophy that bears Lombardi's name.
Forty-four years after his death in 1970, the NFL championship game is being played for the first time in a cold-weather region, the New York metropolitan area: Lombardi's home turf.
Before he became synonymous with the frozen tundra of Green Bay, Wisc., the Italian kid from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, honed his craft in New York City and in the small towns and villages of Bergen County. At St. Cecilia's in Englewood, Fordham University in Manhattan, West Point in the Hudson Valley and at Yankee Stadium with the Giants.
In the 1950's, Lombardi was a familiar face in high school athletic circles in Bergen County. He was a teacher, a football coach and a frequent speaker at sports awards dinners and at church functions. Lombardi's presence can still be felt in the region including in his former hometown of Oradell. The George Washington Bridge, 9W, Route 4 and Kinderkamack Road were familiar routes for Lombardi as he made his way home from work.
Transformed the game
Lombardi, with his larger-than-life personality and professorial demeanor, helped to transform professional football into the most popular and lucrative sport in America. And while the game has changed a little since Lombardi paced the sidelines, his emphasis on mastering the fundamentals and his pursuit of excellence are still relevant.
Lombardi, who would have turned 101 this year, has left an indelible mark on the sports world. But he also has had a profound and lasting impact on those of us who grew up in this area. He was one of us! A local kid who made it big — Real big! And he made us proud, too. Behind that booming baritone voice and gruff edge, there was never any doubt about Lombardi's intelligence, dignity and integrity.
So as we get ready for Super Bowl XLVIII on his old stomping grounds, off of Route 3, on the banks of the Hackensack River, let's pause and think about Vince Lombardi the man, the coach, the teacher, and the proud native son, who decades after his death represents the personification of excellence and pride.
Late Sunday afternoon on Feb. 2, when the whistle blows and the ball's kicked off, blimps and helicopters won't be the only things hovering above MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands Sports Complex. You can bet that Lombardi's spirit and that big contagious grin will be there too!
Italic Institute of America