WASHINGTON — Few characters in the history of the NFL cast a longer shadow than Vince Lombardi, a shadow that extends from the frozen tundra of Green Bay through the goal posts at RFK Stadium.
While he is known for his excellence with the Packers, Lombardi finished out his coaching career in Washington, having full control over personnel and a 5 percent ownership stake in the team.
Lombardi helped turn around a floundering Redskins franchise that went a combined 29-38-3 (.414) in the five seasons before his arrival, part of 14-straight seasons at or below .500.
He secured a winning season in 1969 by beating the New Orleans Saints on December 21, on a brisk first day of winter in the Nation’s Capital.
It was the tale of two halves for the Redskins, who jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead. Charlie Harraway got the Redskins on the board in the first quarter with a 12-yard rush. Curt Knight provided the team’s next four points before Sonny Jurgensen hit Harraway for a 30-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
From there, it got interesting.
The Saints out-rushed the Redskins nearly 2-to-1 on the day, including two touchdown runs in the second half. But with the game on the line, the Redskins managed to close out a three-point victory without scoring a second-half point.
This was Lombardi’s 96th and final NFL win. His Redskins would lose the following week to the Cowboys in Dallas.
He died on September 3, 1970, at the age of 57 from colorectal cancer. His dying confession is that he wished he could have accomplished more in his life.
Despite his short stay on the sidelines in Washington, his mark on the organization is undeniable.
As head of the team’s personnel, he drafted and prepared future NFL MVP Larry Brown. More importantly, his unprejudiced approach to football talent helped move the organization forward from the racist legacy of former owner George Preston Marshall, who died in 1969.
Lombardi also coached Redskins icons Jurgensen, Harraway, Jerry Smith and Mike Bragg. Redskins legend Sam Huff came out of retirement that season just to play for Lombardi.