That Great First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set it on the Path to Glory by John Eisenberg
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2009
ISBN 13: 978-0-618-90499-0
Much has been written about Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers dynasty of the 1960’s, but John Eisenberg’s book is the first to provide details about Vince Lombardi’s first season with the Green Bay Packers.
When Lombardi took over as head coach, Green Bay was a losing team with a culture of losing, and even quitting during games. He was starting at ground zero with a group of players who were used to and even accepted losing. Once a team establishes a culture of losing, it is extremely difficult to break it out of that cycle. Losing becomes a habit and it becomes the norm.
But this was not acceptable to Vince Lombardi.
After taking over the head coaching duties prior to the 1959 season, Lombardi wondered what he had gotten into after watching game film of this woeful team.
Through punishing practices and motivational tactics more akin to an army drill sergeant than a professional football coach, Lombardi made it clear to his players that losing was not going to be tolerated. And he was gong to work them out of it, literally. His practices were brutal affairs and his drive for perfection a tangible force.
While the first season ended with a mediocre 7-5 record, Lombardi accomplished one amazing feat. The Green Bay Packers were no longer losers and quitters. Instead, Lombardi established the mental and physical groundwork for the dynasty yet to come.
The most amazing thing about Lombardi’s feat is he turned the team around with essentially the same players who were so awful before. Normally a team breaking out of losing streak essentially has to clean house and build from scratch.
He worked, cajoled, intimidated, and rebuilt this team from the inside out turning a losing mentality into a winning one. This is why why Lombardi is praised as possibly being one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport.
Lombardi also made some key decisions that propelled the team forward. He finally settled on future Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr as his starter for the future. He created an offensive attack that utilized the unique talents of Paul Hornung instead of trying to turn him into a power running back, letting Jim Taylor handle those duties.
And he helped players like offensive linemen Jerry Kramer, Forrest Gregg, and "Fuzzy" Thurston develop into graeat players. And by practicing the bread and butter plays, until they was second nature, especially the sweep, he made the game more simple for his offensive players and difficult to stop for opponents.
This is a well written book where you get the inside story of that first year from many of the players of that era, like Bart Starr, Paul Hornung, and Jerry Kramer.
Fans of professional football should enjoy this look back at how Vince Lombardi launched a dynasty.