Several years before his death, the celebrated Green Bay Packers coach made a documentary film titled "Second Effort." I worked on the project, carrying away a lesson that once spoke not only to the NFL, but to the entire American culture. Not so much anymore....!
Lombardi preached the unbreakable beliefs that once dominated our society: Commitment, tenacity, a willingness to always follow through on whatever you start. Besides running a football, what else? Pretty much anything you can think of. Unbreakable loyalty to family, community, church, marriage and career. It was still the age of the 50th anniversary parties at the same job, with the same spouse, with the same classmates, in the same place. It was also an age when football and baseball players started and ended their careers with the same team.
Most of that's gone now. Gone with the winds of progress, speed, and mobility. With a flurry of choices comes a feeling of freedom. Freedom to change, leave behind, find alternatives, and at all costs follow your own star. For instance, today's players needn't find their glory by a second-effort with the same team; simply reach for a new-effort with another team.
Men love to talk about "life is like a football game." But today's men would probably find it hard to work for a Lombardi. Or a Mike Ditka, Buddy Ryan, Knute Rockne. Their lessons were unbreakable commitment to staying the course. In the light of so many options today, commitment can seem neolithic.
And yet, without some serious second effort, a polio-stricken FDR would never have become president...Helen Keller would never have become a great literary voice...Jackie Robinson would never have stuck it out in baseball....Fred Astaire would never have gotten that MGM contract... Judy Garland would never have had "Over the Rainbow" to sing in that film. The list is long!
I learned Lombardi was the kind of sonofabitch who would snarl at today's generation of Americans as spoiled and impatient. But you know what? I suspect today's generation would find his lessons hard to ignore. America might even get used to them all over again.
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