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Pat Summerall: The Only Giant Coached by Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi

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Pat Summerall: The Only Giant Coached by Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi
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Legendary sportscaster, and former NFL player, Pat Summerall is the only football player in NFL history to have been coached by both Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry at the same time.

Landry’s and Lombardi’s names are synonymous with the NFL, both, while dead, became legends of the game within their own lifetimes. If there were a Mt. Rushmore for NFL head coaches, they both would be on it.

And they both cut their teeth together, coaching at the same time for the New York Football Giants in the 1950's.

In 1958, Summerall, a kicker, offensive starter and defensive reserve, came to the New York Giants from the Chicago Cardinals, and his new offensive coordinator was Lombardi, and his new defensive coordinator was Tom Landry.

In an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report, Summerall and I spent 10 minutes discussing his new book Giants, What I Learned About Life From Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry that Summerall co-wrote with Michael Levin.

First Summerall endured a bit of culture shock coming from the Giants to the Cardinals. “The Cardinals physical talent was the same as the Giants, but the Giants had smarter players, and smarter coaches,” said Summerall.

I asked Summerall to elaborate on that point, and to what degree of responsibility to the legendary Giants owner Wellington Mara bore for the stability of the Giants organization. “The way it was presented, the way it was taught, and the equipment and surroundings, such class with the Giants. I know there wasn’t any comparison, the way they ran the operation. The way the Maras ran things, the class with which they conducted themselves from the front office on down, I think that class transpired onto the field,” he said.

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In many ways Lombardi and Landry were the fathers of modern style NFL coaching. Summerall summarized, “If you made a physical mistake, it's because you didn’t do it enough. If you made a mistake mentally, than they just figured it was just beyond your command to understand what they were doing."

But the values Lombardi and Landry instilled in Summerall went beyond the football field, as the title of his book would suggest.

“The value of preparation (that they instilled in me) helped me greatly in the broadcasting business: To present what you are saying like you believe in what you are saying. The way Landry and Lombardi always had confidence in what they were doing. The confidence with which they taught and their belief in preparation taught me how to broadcast football and how to live life.”

But a surprising topic emerged when talking about the 2010 NFL season. When I asked Summerall what current NFL head coach reminded him of either Lombardi or Landry I was half expecting him to say Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin or some other veteran coach but I was wrong.

“I think that the new coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Garrett, is all business. He has that Lombardi way of presenting what he wants done, that business-like approach, no stone unturned, the confidence in what he is saying, it makes him sound like Lombardi, and sound like he has the same approach.  I am not sure the success is going to be the same, but he sounds like a very effective teacher."

At first, I was surprised by the answer, even though Garrett’s Cowboys just defeated a very talented and heavily favored New York Giants team. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

Garrett has a reputation for being viciously honest with his players in film sessions; embarrassing many players in front of their peers. He is also incredibly detailed and meticulous; offensive plays are detailed down to the number of steps a receiver should use on his route or offensive tackle should use in his pass protection. 

But Garrett is also known, like Lombardi, for having a very fiery personality and having very strong leadership traits. Perhaps like Lombardi’s players, the current Cowboys may not like Garrett, but they fear him.

While Landry and Lombardi were both assistants with the Giants at the same time, and went on to have Hall of Fame careers as head coaches with other teams, they had very different personalities.

But Summerall explained that despite their differences in personality their similarities were just as striking,  “Lombardi and Landry were almost opposites in how they presented things,” he explained. "Both were very confident in what they said, both prided themselves on the fact that if you asked either of them what they would have done if they hadn’t coached, it was teach. And both were just such effective teachers. They both believed their way was the best way to win, and in most cases they turned out to be right.”

Landry left the Giants to coach the Dallas Cowboys in 1959 and quickly established a legendary tradition. Landry guided the Cowboys to 20 consecutive winning seasons, two Super Bowls and 20 playoff victories.

“With Landry you never knew where you stood, and his Landry’s engineering degree was obvious in the ways he taught us,” said Summerall.

Landry was a pioneer of NFL defenses, as he invented the 4-3 defense while a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants. He created and schemed like he was building a complicated machine, which makes sense considering the fact that he studied to be an engineer.

Vince Lombardi left the Giants to be head coach of the Green Bay Packers at the end of the 1958 season. While with the Packers as head coach from 1959-1967, Lombardi won five NFL championships, two Super Bowls and had only one loss in his career in the playoffs.

Lombardi was a very meticulous offensive coordinator who introduced the concept of precision to offenses in a way that had never before been seen. “Lombardi was incredibly meticulous, this step has to be that way, this much length,” he explained.

But Lombardi wasn’t the quiet engineer Landry was; he was a bombastic and emotional, considered one of the most natural and inspirational leaders the NFL has ever seen. Public regard for his leadership was so intense during Lombardi’s lifetime that when Richard Nixon was running for President for a second time, he strongly considered asking Lombardi to be his Vice-President, even though he was a Democrat.

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But again Lombardi and Landry had as much in common as they didn’t.  “They both believed in what they were saying and what they were trying to teach, that is what they had in common. The other was thing they had in common was success. If you got their message the way they taught it, you would probably be successful too."

The book is an excellent read.  The stories Summerall tells are like first hand accounts of the founding fathers of football. Landry and Lombardi might be long gone, but their influence will be felt in the NFL for as long as there is an NFL.

And to read Pat Summerall’s first hand account of being able to learn at the feet of these two titans at the same time in the same year, is as fascinating as it is educational.

In other words Summerall’s book isn’t just for Giants, Packers or Cowboy fans, or fans of NFL history, it’s for all football fans.

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