The Lombardi Trophy Should Be Named After Someone Else
By Steven King
Vince Lombardi was not just a great head coach, but also a tremendously influential figure in the history of the NFL. That’s a contention that can’t be argued.
Despite that, however – and with all due respect to Lombardi – the trophy awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl each year should not be named in his honor. Yes, Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers captured the first two Super Bowls, first 35-10 over the Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 15, 1967 and then 33-14 over the Oakland Raiders on Jan. 14, 1968. For that, he should be commended.
But if the truth be told, the Packers were far superior to either the Chiefs or Raiders. Anyone could have coached Green Bay to victory in those games. As such, those were routs waiting to happen.
In fact, there were probably two or three NFL teams that could have beaten the AFL champion Raiders and Chiefs in those two years. And with that, then, what true historical significance – at least in terms of making brilliant coaching decisions – do those victories hold?
If the NFL really wanted to name the Super Bowl-winning trophy to a coach, or coaches, who really made a monumental difference in those early Super Bowls, then they should honor Weeb Ewbank and/or Hank Stram. Ewbank coached the New York Jets past the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts, 16-7, in Super Bowl III on Jan. 12, 1969. A year later almost to the day, on Jan. 11, 1970, Stram guided the Chiefs over the heavily-favored Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in Super Bowl IV.
There are a lot of games that could qualify as the greatest – or, most important – in pro football history. Those two games are right up at the top of that list. And in terms of the Super Bowl, those are easily the two greatest, most important, most stunning, most influential, most-anything games ever played.
It’s not even close.
Everything else – absolutely, positively everything else – still pales in comparison 45 years later.
In fact, without those two games, it is reasonable to say that the NFL – and, more specifically, the Super Bowl – wouldn’t be what they are today in any way, shape or form.
That fact is not recognized because those games happened so long ago, and for most people now, even the movers and shakers in both the NFL and the NFL media, nothing means anything if it happened before the day before yesterday. Everything else is just old stuff from a black-and-white time that has no meaning on today’s game.
That isn’t going to change. Not now. Not ever.
It will only get worse.
Maybe things that happened earlier in the day – let alone the day before the day before yesterday – will start to become insignificant. That’s how much of a shelf life history has in the here-and-now NFL.
Let’s look at that Jets-Colts Super Bowl. The Jets were 18-point underdogs, and in reality, the spread could have – and should have – been more. Sure, they had finished 11-3 to win the Eastern Division and then edged Oakland 27-23 in the AFL Championship Game after losing to the Raiders 43-32 in the famous “Heidi Game” during the regular season six weeks earlier. But on paper at least, the Jets were no match for the mighty Colts.
The Colts had Don Shula, the NFL’s all-time winngest coach, at the helm, and a slew of players who were among the best in the game at the time. They finished 13-1 to earn the Coastal Division title, scoring the second-most points in the league (402) and giving up the fewest (144). Three times they scored over 40 points. They scored less than 20 points just once. They posted three shutouts and kept seven opponents in single-digits scoring.
The Colts then defeated Minnesota 24-14 in the first round of the playoffs to win the Western Conference crown.
That earned them a spot opposite the Cleveland Browns in the NFL (NFC) Championship Game at Cleveland Stadium. The Browns were pretty good themselves, having beaten the Colts 30-20 at Baltimore to give them their lone defeat. Plus the Browns, who were overwhewlming underdogs, had dusted off the Colts 27-0 at Cleveland in the 1964 title game.
But the Colts ignored all that and crushed the Browns 34-0, and it wasn’t really that close.
Following that mugging, the so-called “experts” were calling the Colts one of the greatest teams in NFL history, and virtually unbeatable.
Moreover, after the way the Packers steamrolled their way to victory in the first two Super Bowls, people were wondering why the Super Bowl should even be played. Why bother? The NFL was going to win no matter who represented the AFL. The NFL’s best was always going to be better than the AFL’s best.
But Ewbank and the Jets found a way to beat the “unbeatable” Colts. In fact, the game wasn’t as competitive as the final nine-point margin of victory might seem to indicate. New York controlled the game, having an answer for everything the Colts tried.
Now, were the Jets better than the Colts? Of course not. If the teams had played 10 times, then Baltimore would have won nine times, and probably by big margins. But the teams didn’t play 10 times, just once. And on that day, with Ewbank’s guidance, the Jets proved to be the better team. That’s all that mattered.
The Chiefs were in the very same position the following year. Although they had gone 11-3, that wasn’t even good enough to capture the AFL’s Western Division title. They had finished in second place behind the 12-1-1 Raiders, who beat them twice during the regular season, 10-6 and 27-24. Kansas City had to get into the playoffs as a wild card.
The Chiefs dumped the Eastern champion Jets 13-6 in the first round to earn another shot at the Raiders in the AFL title game at Oakland. The time, the Chiefs turned the tables and triumphed 17-7.
The Chiefs had a good defense, posting two shutouts and keeping seven teams in single-digits scoring in the regular season and playoffs combined. But that defense was nothing – at least on paper – compared to that of the Vikings.
Led by its physically-dominating “Fearsome Foursome” front four, Minnesota allowed an NFL-best 133 points during the regular season, 11 less than the Collts had the year before. The Vikings kept 13 of 14 foes to 14 points or less and shut out two teams. They crushed the then-floundering Pittsburgh Steelers and the Colts – the Colts! – both by 52-14 counts. They did the same to the Browns, 51-3. It all added up to a 12-2 record and a Central Division title.
After dispatching the Los Angeles Rams 23-20 in the opening round of the playoffs, the Vikings faced the Browns in the NFL (NFC) Championship game on a bitterly cold day at Bloomington. The Vikings led 24-0 at halftime and cruised to a 27-7 win.
But the Chiefs weren’t afraid. Stram knew his diversified offensive attack, featuring a plethora of formations and options the Vikings had never seen in the then more staid NFL, would be the difference. And he was right. The Minnesota defense grabbed at air much of the day, and the simplistic Vikings offense was no match for an attacking Chiefs defense.
Most everybody outside of the Kansas City locker room thought the Vikings would get the NFL back on top and manhandle the Chiefs, just like they had manhandled everyone else.
After all, that Jets victory over the Colts in Super Bowl was just an aberration – a fluke, right? It wasn’t going to happen again, right?
And when it did happen again, it legitimized New York’s win the year before, and the fact that the AFL was a pretty decent league after all as the two leagues headed to the 1970 season and the finalization of their merger to form the NFL we now know today.
But the Chiefs’ victory, piggybacked on top of the Jers’ win, also made the Super Bowl viable, something that people really wanted to watch because the teams – and the leagues – were more evenly matched than anyone thought. Now it was game on. Heading into Super Bowl III, it was game off, another seemingly well-conceived idea that was quickly crashing and burning.
And all that is because of Hank Stram and Weeb Ewbank. The fact their names – and their legacies – aren’t on that Super Bowl trophy and aren’t really remembered much anymore in any regard, is a real shame.
In reality, it’s the poster child for history not being truly historical.