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Lombardi built champions and friends

Of all the lessons Coach Lombardi taught his players — pursue excellence, never settle, honor the uniform, respect god, eat nutritionally, prepare thoroughly — one of the richest remains this: value friendship.

Honored residents of Titletown, Lombardi’s Packers bonded in the singular pursuit of championships and collective respect for their coach. That kind of high-fiving, champagne sipping, back slapping, memory making friendship is easy. With celebrity comes joyful gatherings and uncomplicated social occasions. The golf tournaments, poker games, hunting trips and parties ensured an effortless bonding that would have been enough for players of a different coach, men of a different era.

Both the test of genuine friendship and the basis on which it is built happens much more quietly, when dust starts to settle on the trophy case and family finances aren’t meted out from an even playing field.

With a dismissive attitude toward ego, Coach Lombardi encouraged his players, even those competing for the same position, to learn from and respect each other. By his own solid, personal relationships, with his parish priest Father Bill Spalding, with Packer legend and NFL Hall of Fame inductee Tony Canadeo, he demonstrated the worthy pursuit of having and being a friend.

In the 47 years since the Packers won the first Super Bowl, they have honored faithfully Lombardi’s call to friendship.

Certainly, even after all these years, they still find joy in the orchestrated gatherings at reunions and induction ceremonies. But they also honor each other in the muted moments, fundraising for a sick teammate, calling a lonely guy, hiring a struggling friend, finding a lost soul.

Blessed by the absence of free agency, Lombardi’s Packers stuck around; most played together for a decade. Nurtured by a principled man, they learned to appreciate one of the more obscure attributes of true champions — the honor of friendship.

Here's a shot my dad took of Vince and Marie Lombardi attending church the morning of Super Bowl I. A deeply religious man, Coach Lombardi maintained a lifelong friendship with his parish priest Father Bill Spalding. Together, the two developed the Bishop's Charity football game, a fundraising tradition that continues today.

Here’s a shot my dad took of Vince Lombardi attending church the morning of Super Bowl I.
A deeply religious man, Coach Lombardi maintained a lifelong friendship with his parish priest Father Bill Spalding. Together, the two developed the Bishop’s Charity football game, a fundraising tradition that continues today.

Here are Henry Jordan and Dave "Hawg" Hanner after Super Bowl I. Upon hearing the shocking news in 1977 that Henry Jordan had died at age 42, his former teammates flew in from all over the country to attend the funeral.

Here are Henry Jordan and Dave “Hawg” Hanner after Super Bowl I. Upon hearing the shocking news in 1977 that Henry Jordan had died at age 42, his former teammates flew in from all over the country to attend the funeral.

Dad and Bon Skoronski on the field

My dad and his friend offensive captain Bob Skoronski enjoy some time together on the field at Lambeau in 1990.

Dad and Paul Hornung on the sidelines

Dad and Paul Hornung had some laughs on the sideline when my dad was asked to be an honorary captain for the Packers in 1992.

Max McGee Roast

Willie Davis, Paul Hornung, Bart Starr, Ron Kramer, Jerry Kramer, Max McGee, my dad Ron Kostelnik, Fuzzy Thurston, and sportswriters Bud Lea and Dick Schaap raised money for Milwaukee Children’s hospital by roasting Max McGee.

Willie Davis posted this picture on his Facebook wall this week with the following message: Happy birthday to a great Green Bay Packer, one of the best guards of all time and a very dear friend, Mr. Jerry Kramer. When we played, we were among the first black and white roommates in the league and I remember having late night talks about everything from politics to food and especially Green Bay Packer football. We still talk a lot today and I consider myself very lucky to call Jerry my friend.

Willie Davis posted this picture on his Facebook wall this week with the following message:                        Happy birthday to a great Green Bay Packer, one of the best guards of all time and a very dear friend, Mr. Jerry Kramer. When we played, we were among the first black and white roommates in the league and I remember having late night talks about everything from politics to food and especially Green Bay Packer football. We still talk a lot today and I consider myself very lucky to call Jerry my friend.

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Posted on January 25, 2013, in NFL Alumni, Packer Alumni, Packers, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Oh Molly I really enjoy your stories. They bring back so many great memories. I love that they are first hand. With my cup of Starbucks Christmas blend & your latest story is a great way to start the day. Thanks

  2. Sandye Jordan Murray

    Thanks for sharing your stories and pictures. This weekend was Henry’s birthday and I thought about Uncle H and Aunt Olive all weekend…missing them so it was nice to see his picture today.

  3. Reblogged this on Molly B and Me and commented:

    We’re reblogging our favorite posts this week in honor of the two-year birthday of this blog. We’re also hoping for a few more followers. So, we’re going to enter every new follower into a drawing for a Molly B and Me care package that we’ll send out on September 3. Already a follower? Just refer someone to this blog and we’ll enter your name too. (Let us know that you referred someone either on our Facebook page or in the comment section of the blog.) We’re going to ask Connie the Cookie Lady to draw a name on Saturday. Thanks for reading and please enjoy some of our favorite posts.

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