With ESPN doing their state-by-state Mt. Rushmore, here are my choices for the Green Bay Packers' four iconic figures that would most deserve being carved into the side of a mountain.
In my opinion, this honor should not be about statistics, but about leadership. Heroic or iconic figures only need apply.
#1: Curly Lambeau - The Founder of the Green Bay Packers.
MY COMMENTS: This man started it all. A classic entrepreneurial story of vision, indomitable spirit and against-all-odds success. A football pioneer, he is credited with inventing the first pass-oriented offense and the idea of daily practices.
He was an owner, player, head coach, general manager – he did it all. A Pro Football Hall of Fame member, Curly is the person most responsible for keeping football alive in small-town Green Bay. Without Curly Lambeau, there would be no Green Bay Packers— enough said.
MINI-BIO: Curly Lambeau was a standout player at Green Bay East High School before attending Notre Dame University, where he played for the famous Knute Rockne. Lambeau made Notre Dame's varsity squad as a freshman.
In 1919, Curly was back in Green Bay for a few months, recovering from an injury. He convinced his employer, the Indian Packing Company, to let them use their athletic field and to supply jerseys for a football team he was starting. The team was so successful, he was awarded a franchise the next year in the newly formed Pro Football League.
However, the team lost money and he had to forfeit the franchise. But the next year, with new backers, he bought back the franchise for $250, including $50 of his own money.
Lambeau played for the Packers from 1919 to 1929. Although Lambeau played halfback, he was the player who took the snap from the center, as was common practice during that period. Lambeau threw the Packers' first official pass, first official touchdown pass, and kicked the Packers' first official field goal.
Lambeau coached the Packers as an NFL team from 1921 to 1949. As head coach, he led the Packers to six NFL championships (1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939, 1944). Lambeau's regular season record as head coach of the Packers was 212–106–21 (.656) overall). These official records do not include the Packers' 19–2–1 record under Lambeau prior to joining the NFL.
Besides being a part owner, player, and head coach all at the same time, Lambeau is credited with pioneering daily practices and the forward pass in the NFL. Three months after his death in 1965, the Packers renamed City Stadium to Lambeau Field.
#2: Vince Lombardi - ESPN's "NFL Coach of the Century"
MY COMMENTS: My go-to guy for inspirational quotes. A man like who we’ll never see again. So much integrity, so much passion, so much dedication and such an inspiration to his players. And not a bad coach, either. If there is any man that deserves to be carved into a mountain, it’s Vince Lombardi.
My No. 1 Lombardi quote:
"The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will."
This is a quote that found its way tacked up onto the walls of my kids’ rooms. It’s one of the best messages you can send to your children.
MINI-BIO: Born in Brooklyn, NY in 1913, Vincent Thomas Lombardi was the first son of Italian immigrant parents. He attended Catholic schools and studied for the priesthood for two years before changing his mind and going back to St. Francis Prep High School, where he was a star fullback.
He attended Fordham University, and played varsity football for three years as an undersized guard. He was one of the famous "Seven Blocks of Granite". Lombardi graduated cum laude and worked for a finance company for two years. In 1939, he took a teaching position at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, NJ, where he also coached football, basketball and baseball.
He stayed at St. Cecilia for eight years, five as head football coach. He next spent two years back at Fordham as an assistant coach, before being hired by West Point as offensive line coach. There he was tutored by the man considered the best coach in the country at the time, Earl "Colonel Red" Blaik.
The Colonel and his staff worked 17-hour days. He refined Lombardi's leadership skills and taught Vince to stick with clear-cut plays (simple blocking and tackling), strive for perfect execution, and conduct himself respectfully on the field. This would later become the hallmark of Lombardi's NFL coaching philosophy.
After five years at West Point, he was hired as offensive coordinator for the NY Giants. The defensive coordinator at the time was Tom Landry. (The Giants let both of them get away). In three years, they helped turn the Giants around from a 3-9 team to the NFL Championship. Lombardi is credited for switching Frank Gifford from defense to offense, where he went on to a Hall-of-Fame career.
In 1958, at the age of 45, Lombardi accepted a five-year contract with the lowly Green Bay Packers, who had only won one game the year before.
Lombardi held the first ever of his notoriously intense training camps to gear up for the 1959 season.
"Dancing is a contact sport," he told his Packers, "Football is a hitting sport."
He expected obedience, dedication and 110 percent effort from each man, but he also made a promise to them: If they obeyed his rules and used his method, they would be a championship team.
Three years later, that promise became a reality. At Lambeau Field in Green Bay on December 31, 1961, Vince watched proudly as the Packers defeated the New York Giants 37-0 for the National Football League championship.
The year before, the Giants had made an attempt to hire him back as head coach, but he had declined. Vince went on to lead the Packers to five NFL Championships, including the first two Super Bowls.
He retired from coaching after the second Super Bowl, staying on as the Packers' GM. But he got the coaching itch again a year later. He left Green Bay to coach the Washington Redskins, leading them to their first winning season in 14 years.
Unfortunately, the next summer, he was diagnosed with cancer, which rapidly spread and took his life on September 3, 1970, at the age of 57. His funeral at St. Patrick's Cathedral in NY was attended by over 3500 people.
A week after his death, the NFL's Super Bowl trophy was renamed the Vince Lombardi Trophy in his honor. Lombardi was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame at its next induction ceremony in 1971.
In addition to Lombardi's contributions to the history of professional football, Lombardi is legendary for his coaching philosophy and motivational skills. Many of Lombardi's speeches continue to be quoted frequently today. Lombardi's players were wholeheartedly devoted to him, and his emphasis on hard work and dedication endeared him to millions who admired his values.
Lombardi is also credited with introducing the concept of zone blocking to the NFL. The line would block as a unit, instead of individually man-on-man. The running back then was expected to run toward any hole that was created. Lombardi referred to this as "running to daylight."
Vince helped the men he coached succeed to the best of their abilities. He brought them pride and victory, and his legacy of perseverance, hard work, and dedication has made him one of the most admired and well respected coaches in the history of all sports.
#3: Bart Starr - A Leader of Men
MY COMMENTS: Bart Starr was the first person I ever idolized. “Bart the Cool” never seemed to sweat. An incredibly nice man, his on-the-field persona was described by teammates as steely. He was the ultimate field general, managing his troops and leading them to victory.
Bart led the Packers to five NFL Championships, including three straight. It was the first and last time it’s been done. Bart chooses to wear the ring from that third consecutive championship (SB II), because Vince Lombardi told him at the time that it would never happen again.
MINI-BIO: Bryan Bartlett Starr was born January 9, 1934 in Montgomery, Ala. He grew up in a Military family, and was raised in a strict disciplinarian environment. He credits his parents with molding his personality and teaching him the merits of hard work.
His high school coach did not think Starr could be an effective quarterback because he was so quiet and shy. But Starr’s dedication and work ethic swayed him over. Starr’s dream was to play football at the University of Kentucky, for Paul “Bear” Bryant.
However, his parents wanted him to stay closer to home, so he accepted a scholarship from the University of Alabama. Ironically, a year after Starr graduated, Bear Bryant would come to Alabama and become a coaching legend.
Bart married his high school sweetheart during his sophomore year at Alabama, forfeiting his scholarship money. Bart had an unspectacular career at Alabama, missing significant time due to injuries.
As a result, he was not highly sought after by NFL teams. He was drafted in the 17th round of the 1956 NFL draft by the Green bay Packers. For the next few seasons, he would be a backup quarterback and part-time starter, splitting time with Tobin Rote and Babe Parilli. The Packers did not have much success in those years.
Then along came a coach named Vince Lombardi, who immediately saw something in Bart Starr that others had not. Most people thought Lombardi was crazy for making Bart the starting quarterback. But Lombardi knew that Starr was like him. He would out-work, out-think and eventually defeat the competition, even if he was not as talented.
Starr would become the ultimate leader of men. He was the military commander leading his troops into battle. His success was staggering.
With Starr at quarterback the Packers went on to win six division crowns, five NFL championships, and two Super Bowls.
From 1960-67, the Packers were 62-24-4 under Starr. The only playoff game Starr ever lost with the Packers was his first, the 1960 NFL Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. After that, Starr was a perfect 9-0 in postseason play.
Starr was the NFL Player of the Year in 1966 and Super Bowl MVP in 1967 and 1968, in Super Bowls I and II.
Starr retired in 1972, and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. He was the Packers’ head coach from 1975 – 1984, but did not enjoy the same level of success as a coach.
Starr is still a regular at Packers Alumni days, and now devotes much of his time to charitable organizations.
#4: Brett Favre – Larger than Life
MY COMMENTS: For me, Brett Favre is all about overcoming adversity. He has had many difficult challenges in his life, met them head on, and came out victorious.
Although there have been many magical moments for Brett, the one that still gives me goosebumps is that Monday Night game versus Oakland after his father had just passed away. What he accomplished that night was incredible, because it really was like a dream.
The balls he threw up into double and triple coverage had no right being caught, yet the Packers receivers were caught up in the surreal feel of that evening, and they truly ran through a brick wall to catch those balls.
Same for the rest of the Brett’s Packer teammates. They were used to Brett carrying them on his shoulders, but that night, they carried Brett and made it special for him. That night, Brett Favre was truly “larger than life”, or death, for that matter.
MINI-BIO: Brett Lorenzo Favre was born in Kiln, Mississippi, a tiny town with no paved roads and not a single stoplight. Sports were always a big part of his life. Brett’s father Irvin taught his boys mental and physical toughness.
When he was four years old, he got hit in the head with a baseball bat and didn’t even cry.
“I used to cry when I’d get a whuppin’. It didn’t hurt, but I didn’t want to get another one. So I would cry to fool people," Breet said, talking about his childhood.
In high school, Brett starred in baseball and football, but the football coach (his Dad) didn’t like to throw the ball much. As a result, Brett received only one football scholarship offer, from Southern Mississippi.
The coaches at Southern Miss wanted to make him a defensive back, but Brett insisted on competing at quarterback. He entered his freshman year as the seventh string quarterback. By the start of the season, he was the backup.
He came in to the third game of the year at halftime, and led his team to a come-from-behind victory with two touchdown passes. This despite having a massive hangover and vomiting during pre-game warmups. Southern Miss had found their new quarterback.
During the summer before his senior year, Brett was involved in a near-fatal car crash where he flipped his car three times. Doctors removed 30 inches of his small intestine and miraculously, he suited up for the season-opener only six weeks later.
He proceeded to lead Southern Miss to a come-from-behind victory over Alabama.
Alabama coachGene Stallings said, "You can call it a miracle or a legend or whatever you want to. I just know that on that day, Brett Favre was larger than life."
Favre was drafted in the second round by the Atlanta Falcons. After a year with little playing time, Ron Wolf traded a Packer No. 1 pick to Atlanta for Brett. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Green Bay legend of Brett Favre was born. In the third game of the season, Brett came in for an injured Don Majkowski and was having a horrible game. Among other things, he fumbled four times. But that was all forgotten when he led the offense down the field for a game-winning touchdown drive.
The following week he was the starter and never missed another start in his career.
A brief list of some of his accomplishments:
Favre is the first player to win the AP MVP three times (1995–97) in NFL history, and led the Packers to seven division championships (1995,1996,1997,2002,2003,2004, and 2007), four NFC Championship Games(1995, 1996, 1997, and 2007), two NFC Championships (1996 and 1997), and one Super Bowl championship (XXXI).
He holds a number of NFL records including: most career touchdown passes (464), most career passing yards (65,127), most career pass completions (5,720), most career pass attempts (9,280), most career interceptions thrown (310), most consecutive starts among NFL quarterbacks (269; 291 total starts including playoffs), and most career victories as a starting quarterback (169)
Other Packer greats that were considered: