A poignant article in last week’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reminded me of two powerful lines from To an Athlete Dying Young.
“Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay.”
Famed author and sports commentator Dick Schaap read the A.E. Housman poem at my dad’s funeral more than 20 years ago. While, at 53-years old, my dad was young when he died, he also was 25-years past his playing days. Still, 13 of his Packer teammates and several members of the Green Bay coaching staff made their way to frozen Appleton on a weekday morning for the funeral.
I thought about that day, too, when I read Gary D’Amato’s piece, “ ’60s Packers struggle against their final foe.”
And, with all due respect to Mr. Housman and Mr. D’Amato, I’d like to offer a different perspective.
Built as it is on the adoration of professional sports’ most loyal fans, Lambeau Field may be the one, genuine place where glory does stay.
Sure my heart hurts a little on alumni day when I watch Lombardi’s heroes limp across the field, but only because it has already swelled with pride for all these men accomplished.
The point isn’t, as the article states that “the once powerful champions are losing their goal-line stand against Father Time,” it’s that they established a legacy so powerful we’re still fascinated by them today.
They played football the way they did, building a legacy that defined a decade, reveling in a lasting brotherhood, and celebrating the birth of the modern-day NFL because they loved the game and they respected their legendary coach, Vince Lombardi.
The league owes much of its incredible success to these first feisty Super Bowl warriors.
What Lombardi’s Packers accomplished during the turbulence of the 1960s will last long after the last member of those famed teams takes his final breath. It’s not just that they won an unprecedented five titles in seven years, it’s how they did it:
- With straight backs and NFL issue blazers
- In sweat socks and metal cleats
- Without agents
- With off-season workouts in high school gyms and on solitary roads
- With fierce loyalty
- With a back-slapping sense of fun
- With outside pressures like second jobs and mortgages
- With dedication
- With love
We mourn the players, but we celebrate the team and its immortal success. Frozen in time and on their famed tundra, these men will always be the athletes who defined Lombardi’s Glory Years.