Lombardi: Thoughts on Leadership

Standing before the crowd gathered at Kennewick’s First Presbyterian Church, Vince Lombardi Jr. recited the following poem by D. H Groberg:

“Quit, give up, you’re beaten”
They shout at you and plead
“There’s just too much against you
This time you can’t succeed”.

And as I start to hang my head
In front of failures face
My downward fall is broken by
The memory of a race

And hope refills my weakened will
As I recall that scene
Or just the thought of that short race
Rejuvenates my being

Childrens race, young boys
Young men, how I remember well
Excitement sure, but also fear
It wasn’t hard to tell

They all lined up so full of hope
Each thought to win that race
Or tie for first, or if not that
At least take second place

The fathers watched from off the side
Each cheering for his son
And each boy hoped to show his dad
That he could be the one

The whistle blew and off they went
Young hearts and hopes afire
To win and be the hero there
Was each young boys desire

And one boy in particular
Whose dad was in the crowd
Was running near the lead and thought
“My dad will be so proud”

But as they speeded down the field
Across a shallow dip
The little boy who thought to win
Lost his step and slipped

Trying hard to catch himself
With hands flew out to brace
And amid the laughter of the crowd
He fell flat on his face

But as he fell his dad stood up
And showed his anxious face
Which to the boy so clearly said
“Get up and win the race”

He quickly rose, no damage done
Behind a bit that’s all
And ran with all his night and mind
To make up for the fall

So anxious to restore himself
To catch up and to win
His mind went faster than his legs
He slipped and fell again

He wised then that he had quit before
With only one disgrace
“I’m hopeless as a runner now
I shouldn’t try to race”

But in the laughing crowd he searched
And found his fathers face
That steady look which said again
“Get up and win the race”

So up he jumped to try again
Ten yards behind the last
If I’m going to gain those yards he though
I’ve got to move real fast

Exerting everything he had
He regained eight or ten
But trying hard to catch the lead
He slipped and fell again

Defeat, he lay there silently
A tear dropped from his eye
There’s no sense running anymore
Three strikes, I’m out, why try?

The will to rise had disappeared
All hope had fled away
So far behind so error prone
A loser all the way

“I’ve lost, so what”, he thought
I’ll live with my disgrace
But then he thought about his dad
Whom soon he’d have to face

“Get up” the echo sounded low
“Get up” and take your place
You were not meant for failure here
“Get up”, and win the race

With borrowed will “Get up” it said
“You haven’t lost at all”
For winning is no more than this
To rise each time you fall

So up he rose to run once more
And with a new commit
He resolved, that win or lose
At least he shouldn’t quit

So far behind the others now
The most he’d ever been
Still he’d give it all he had
And run as though to win

Three times he’d fallen, stumbling
Three times he’d rose again
Too far behind to hope to win
He still ran to the end

They cheered the winning runner
As he crossed the line first place
Head high and proud and happy
No falling, no disgrace

But when the fallen youngster
Crossed the line, last place
The crowd gave him the greater cheer
For finishing the race

And even though he came in last
With head bent low, unproud
You would have thought he’d won the race
To listen to the crowd

And to his dad he sadly said
“I didn’t do too well”
“To me you won”, his father said
“You rose each time you fell”

Then Lombardi Jr. reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a token of his father’s — a Super Bowl Championship ring.

It’s inscribed with the word “Challenge” on one side,  he said. And on the other side? It says “Run to Win.”

A quote from the Apostle Paul, Lombardi Jr. explained.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.  I Corn. 9: 24-27

Lombardi Jr. had already explained that his father was a devout man who attended Mass every morning. He was a man for whom the Apostle Paul’s admonishment became a way of life — run to win.

Okay. Here’s the disclaimer: Tim had nothing to do with me going to this event. Tim didn’t even go. He was at meetings. I went all on my own. Lombardi Jr.’s presentation was part of the First Prebs Servant Leadership seminar. I don’t typically spend a lot of time listening to motivational speakers. To be quite honest, I find a lot of those talks annoying, a little too  much Rah-Rah-Me.

But this, I suspected, would  be different.  For you uninitiated Vince Lombardi is a legend among coaches. In the 1960s He took the embarrassingly bad Green Bay Packers team and transformed them into winners — five NFL Championships, including wins in Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II.

It was his father’s Super Bowl II ring that Lombardi Jr. held up before us.

“My father never considered a championship to be a sign of Divine favor,” Lombardi Jr. said, pausing for emphasis. He wanted to be sure that we heard him on that.

Lombardi Sr. didn’t win Championships because God was on his side. He won them for a whole host of other reasons.

“My father believed that the quality of  person’s life was in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence.”

I don’t have a clue what it’s like to grow up in the shadow of a legend, but Lombardi Jr., who looks very much like his father — only more fit, thinner, a classic handsome man — has had his own share of success. He’s worked as a banker, a lawyer, for the Seattle Seahawks, for the NFL.

“I’m 68-years-old and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up,” he said, laughing.

That didn’t surprise me. I think that we go through life thinking there’s going to be this moment when we look around us and say, “Ah-ha! This, this is it. The thing I’ve been working hard for all my life. Finally.”

There is no finally in this life.  The Christian faith doesn’t allow for finality. It’s all about living the eternal way.

Lombardi Sr. put it this way: “I firmly believe that any man’s finest hours – his greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear – is that moment when he has worked his heart out in good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”

Lombardi Jr. said this: “I hope you find a good cause in which you work your heart out.”

Because, after all, it’s not championship rings or titles that define us.

“Character is the great prize,” Lombardi Jr. said.

And greatness isn’t about how much talent we possess.

It’s about will.

Do we get quit after we fall down?

Or do we get back up?


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  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nifq3Ke2Q30
    Tangentally related. Thanks, Karen, this was great.

  • “Character is the great prize.” I really like that. My wife said something similar to her elementary school’s football team. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  • Wm C Durant…”Forget past mistakes, forget failures, forget everything except what you’re going to do and do it”
    Your post is great…the poem goes straight to the heart and makes it feel so…wonderful. Thanks