Former Green Bay Packers right guard Jerry Kramer will never forget the lessons he learned from his legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Neither will NFL analyst and Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Ditka, who competed against Lombardi’s Packers and played for him in two Pro Bowls.
Both men join host Chris Berman on tonight’s Lombardi’s Legacy (9 p.m. ET, ESPN), a one-hour special dedicated to the coach who changed not only the NFL, but the lives of the many men who played for him and had the opportunity to meet him. Front Row caught up with Kramer and Ditka to learn even more about the man who coached the Packers to five league championships in seven years, including victories in the first two Super Bowls.
“Both Dick and Jeremy are very bright. Both have a quest for quality. A quest for excellence about them. Sensitive. Good sense of humor. I love them both. Simple as that. Jeremy is named after me, a derivation of Jerry. And Dick was one of my all-time life’s pals.”
What should fans know about Vince Lombardi?
Kramer: First, there was a great energy, a great intensity about him. He just had a fire burn, a hunger, a drive that was very uncommon. We’d go by the coaches’ quarters late – one or two in the morning – the lights would be on and they’d be working, and he’d be there the next morning at 8:30-9 a.m. and full of “ya-ha-ha-ha let’s go!” He just had a tremendous energy.
He was a very bright man, very intelligent. Read ancient Latin, ancient Greek. And he was a wonderful psychologist. He understood that he coached 40 separate players, not a team of men. He coached 40 individuals. He knew precisely how much exposure to criticism they could take or could not take. So he motivated us by sometimes criticizing us or sometimes criticizing the guy next to us and made us hope that he would never get on us. He had a wonderful way of improving your performance.
Ditka: He had a phrase: “The quality of any man’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence.” That’s what he was. He didn’t want to be just okay. He wanted to excel at whatever he did. There has to be a commitment to be the best. He didn’t want anything average.
When he went to Green Bay, they were not a good football team. People don’t know that now – in ’59, ’60 – but he changed the culture and the belief in that organization and made them understand that if they were willing to pay the price, work hard enough, do things his way, “The Lombardi Way,” they would be successful. And they turned around amazingly. They won the championship in ’61 and ’62.
He was a magnificent speaker. He was a charming guy. He was driven by three things: his faith first, his family second and football third. And that’s the way he lived.
How did Lombardi influence you?
Kramer: Most of the world – and certainly I was a part of it – was going through life at about a quarter speed. I was doing okay, I was doing alright, I was doing good enough. And I didn’t realize how good I could be until he pushed me, and pushed me and pushed me. He made you believe ultimately at the end of the career that it didn’t matter what you wanted to do, if you were willing to prepare properly, make a commitment to your goal, have the discipline and the perseverance, the pride and the character to continue it, that you could probably get it done.
He wanted everything you had. He wanted every ounce of energy you had. No matter how much you had, he wanted it all.
Ditka: You control your destiny. If you’re willing to work and you’re willing to sacrifice and you’re willing to do the right thing, you got a chance to succeed. And if you aren’t – fine, you won’t. You won’t succeed. You can be just run-of-the-mill, you can be average. You can be one of the guys. And that’s fine. Nobody will bother you about that. You’ll never have any pressure on you to do that, but it’s going to be a lot of pressure on you if you want to succeed. And that’s what I took with me. I understood that.
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