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.