(every Friday during the NFL season, OOB will run a nostalgic feature about the Lions’ upcoming opponents)
Several weeks ago, as the Lions were preparing to face the Green Bay Packers, I wrote in the Friday nostalgic preview here that there was a coach named Phil Bengston. He was the answer to a trivia question: Who coached the Green Bay Packers after Vince Lombardi retired?
Well, here’s another trivia question for you: when Lombardi came out of retirement in 1969, what team did he coach?
Answer: the Washington Redskins.
Lombardi was so many things, and one of them was Bill Parcells way before there was a Bill Parcells — a coaching Parcells, at least. Today, we laud Parcells as a resuscitator of football franchises — a man who has gone into many a sticky situation and come out smelling like a rose. His latest reclamation project is the Miami Dolphins, though he’s doing it from the executive offices this time.
Lombardi resurrected the Packers, turning them from perennial losers in the 1950s to the Team of the Decade in the 1960s. And funny, but the Pack went right back to losing when Lombardi left them.
And here’s something else that’s funny: when Lombardi couldn’t stand being a GM and bolted that job after just one year to coach the ‘Skins, the team from the capital shed their losing ways, and instantly.
No Redskins team had finished with more wins than losses since 1955 when Lombardi took over. Usually, they weren’t close to .500 in that time frame. Football folks wondered if Lombardi was about to tarnish his legacy, simply to fulfill the desire to coach once again.
Well, before you knew it, the ‘Skins were 4-1-1 and on their way. They stumbled a bit and finished 7-5-2, but it was easily their best record in quite some time. No one wondered, anymore, about Vince Lombardi’s legacy. It was safe and sound.
Lombardi as Redskins coach with retired RB Bobby Mitchell, who donned the uniform once more to pose for this photo
The veteran Redskins players marveled at Lombardi’s tenacity and fire, still raging after so many years on the sidelines. His presence even convinced legendary linebacker Sam Huff to come out of retirement and play one more season, and a very effective one.
Finally, the Redskins were on their way to being a winner again.
Then Lombardi got sick.
In the spring of 1970, after experiencing some stomach discomfort, Lombardi saw the doctor. It was revealed that he had cancer, and at an advanced stage.
The Redskins, and all of pro football, were devastated. There was still hope that Lombardi could recover, though. He went to training camp. There were reports that he was feeling better.
Unfortunately, it was all talk and hope. Lombardi got sicker and sicker, and passed away in September, 1970.
And after that blip on the screen in 1969, the ‘Skins went back to losing, finishing 6-8. George Allen took over in 1971 and restored the pride in Washington.
Some say that had Lombardi lived, he would have eventually led the Redskins into the Super Bowl, which had been his domain in Green Bay. Allen did it in 1972, so it’s conceivable that if Allen could do it, Lombardi certainly could, too.