For Vince Lombardi, the first Super Bowl ended in a tie
ESPN is commemorating the life of Vince Lombardi with an hourlong special, “Lombardi’s Legacy,” on June 6, at 6 p.m. PDT. That’s five days before what would have been the legendary coach’s 100th birthday.
Host Chris Berman will be joined by Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Ditka and Jerry Kramer. Canton-enshrined quarterback Bart Starr is also scheduled to be interviewed.
All of that brings to mind a terrific, behind-the-scenes story of Lombardi from the late, great Steve Sabol, who told it to The Times a few years ago for a series on the history of NFL Films.
In the words of Sabol:
Everybody always said Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi was so confident before the first Super Bowl. That wasn’t the case at all. It’s not that he was unsure about his team, but he realized that if he lost, everything he stood for -- the legacy of the Packers and all those championships -- would be diminished because he lost to this upstart league.
That whole week he had been getting calls from NFL owners telling him that the prestige of the league was on his shoulders. It was an enormous amount of pressure. If he lost, it would be humiliating.
Frank Gifford was going to interview him before the game, and I was the cameraman. You could see that Lombardi was very tense. Gifford had his arm around him and asked him a few questions, and the coach was giving very perfunctory answers. When Lombardi walked away, Frank said, “Look at my hand.” The arm of his sports jacket was soaking wet because Lombardi was sweating so profusely.
Coaches wore a coat and tie in those days, and Lombardi was so tense before the game that he tied his Windsor knot as small as a marble. It was one of those things that as a cameraman you notice.
The Packers won the game, and we followed Lombardi off the field as he headed for the locker room. When he got there, before he talked to reporters, he tried to get undressed. He tried to loosen his tie, but he couldn’t get it off.
The trainer, Dad Brazier, came over with a tape cutter and said, “Coach, just a minute ... ” He just cut the tie off. Nobody thought much of it at the time.
We went back to Green Bay about a month later to show Lombardi the film. He had a game room and a bar in his basement, and he set up the projector and movie screen down there. That’s where he liked to show his coaches the highlight films. He liked to tend bar down there, and he served drinks called White Cadillacs, which were basically vodka.
Lombardi loved jokes too. He’d laugh at them, but he could never tell them. He’d always screw up the punch lines. Everybody was so nervous, they’d just laugh when they thought they should.
The coach was running the projector. It was one of those old threaded ones, and he liked to thread it and fiddle with the focus. At the end of the film you could see he was struggling with his tie. We didn’t show the trainer cutting it off.
When the film was over, we could hear it slapping on the reel. Usually, Lombardi would stop it, but the slapping kept going. There was a discussion going on. We looked back and found out it was all about the tie.
It was Lombardi’s wife, Marie, she had had a lot to drink and she was angry. She had given him that tie as a Christmas present. Apparently, it was a Hermes tie she had picked out in New York and it was very expensive. She couldn’t believe that he had the audacity to have someone cut that tie.
“How could you do that!” she screamed. “How could you be so stupid! You should have left it on! That tie was silk! Do you know that cost $40!”
The whole evening just went downhill after that. Lombardi was sort of subdued, and Marie was in a bad mood.
Who could have guessed Super Bowl I would have ended with a tie?
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