Dec. 23, 2015
Vince Lombardi Coaches His Last NFL Game in 1969
On December 21, 1969, Vince Lombardi coached what turned out to be his last NFL game. It was on this day that Lombardi coached that last game for the Washington Redskins against the Dallas Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl.
Lombardi was born in 1913 in Brooklyn, and would play college football at Fordham under head coach Jim Crowley, who was best remembered for being one of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame in the 1920s. During his senior year, he was a right guard on what became known as the Seven Blocks of Granite.
He struggled for to find work after graduating from Fordham in 1937 until landing an assistant coaching job at St. Cecilia High School in Englewood, NJ two years later.
After his days at St. Cecilia High School, he returned to Fordham before taking an assistant head coaching position the U.S. Military Academy at West Point coaching under the legendary Earl Blaik in 1948.
In 1954, Lombardi got his first coaching job in the NFL as an assistant for the New York Giants under Jimmy Lee Howell. In his third season there, along with defensive coordinator Tom Landry, the Giants won an NFL Championship by defeating the Chicago Bears 47-7. He was also part of the the famous "Greatest Game Ever Played" in 1958 when the Baltimore Colts won against the Giants in the championship game that helped the league gain popularity.
In 1959, he became head coach of the Green Bay Packers and took over a team that had the worst record in their franchise history going 1-10-1 in 1958. They immediately improved to go 7-5 in 1959.
Lombardi's 1960 Packers team made it to the NFL Championship Game and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. That would be the only time he would lost a playoff game.
He won his first NFL Championship the following year in 1961 by shutting out the Giants 37-0. They would win against the Giants again the following year in the NFL Championship Game by winning 16-7.
After winning his third NFL Championship in 1965, he led the Packers to the first two wins in Super Bowl history. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl and the Oakland Raiders in the second.
Lombardi stepped down as head coach of the Packers after the 1967 season, but remained on as general manager. Green Bay slipped 6-7-1 under new head coach Phil Bengston, and the team would have to wait nearly twenty years before they would see another Super Bowl appearance and win.
He wanted to get back into head coaching, and did so with the Washington Redskins for the 1969 season. The Redskins hadn't had a winning season since 1955, and were 5-9 under Otto Graham in 1968.
The Redskins started 4-1-1 and were looking like a playoff team. But they won only one game in November while tying another which included a 41-28 loss to the Cowboys, who were coached by Landry.
Washington won their first two games in December to bring their record to 7-4-2 and to assure the franchise's first winning season in 14 years.
The Cowboys were 10-2-1 heading into the game and had already clinched a playoff spot. Lombardi wanted to not only beat the Cowboys, but his former coaching mate from their days with the Giants.
But it wasn't the kind of ending to the season Lombardi was looking for.
The Cowboys got an early turnover in the first quarter when quarterback Sonny Jurgensen had a pass intercepted by Cowboys safety Mel Renfro. Dallas would get a 12-yard field goal from Mike Clark after the turnover.
The Redskins were forced to punt on their next possession. Mike Bragg's punt into a stiff wind at the Cotton Bowl resulted in it only covering 23 yards.
The Cowboys took advantage of the the short punt when quarterback Craig Morton passed to tight end Pettis Norman for a 26-yard touchdown to put them up 10-0.
The Redskins did finally get on the board in the second quarter on a Curt Knight 34-yard field goal to make it 10-3. But Dallas answered with a field goal of their own from 24 yards out by Clark as they took a 13-3 lead into halftime.
The Redskins had a shot to cut the lead down in the third quarter, but Knight's 27-yard field goal was blocked by Dallas to keep the game 13-3 going into the final quarter.
Washington's defense forced a punt by Dallas early in the fourth quarter and were at the Cowboys' 16-yard line. But after two sacks on Jurgensen, the Redskins missed another scoring opportunity when Knight's 42-yard field goal into the wind sailed wide.
The Redskins got a break on the next offensive play from Dallas when Cowboys' running Calvin Hill fumbled. Linebacker Chris Hanburger recovered the ball at the 19-yard line and returned it for a touchdown to cut the Dallas lead to 13-10.
However, Hill redeemed himself on the following drive when he sealed the game with a 6-yard run on a right end sweep to make it 20-10 later in the fourth quarter.
The Redskins next drive started at their 10-yard line after a holding penalty on the kickoff. Jurgensen was able to advance the ball quickly downfield to the Cowboys' 24-yard line. But on the last play of the game with three seconds remaining on 3rd-and-9, Jurgensen was faced with big pass rush. The game ended with the Redskins having a 4th-and-38.
Dallas - Mike Clark 12-yard FG, 3-0
Dallas - Pettis Norman 26-yard pass from Morton(Clark kick), 10-0
Washington - Curt Knight 34-yard FG, 10-3
Dallas - Clark 24-yard FG, 13-3
Washington - Hanburger 19-yard fumble return(Knight kick), 13-10
Dallas - Calvin Hill 6-yard run(Clark kick), 20-10
Total net yards: Washington 274, Dallas 333
Net Passing yards: Washington 173, Dallas 195
Rushing yards: Washington 101, Dallas 138
Turnovers: Washington 1, Dallas 1
Times sacked: Washington 5, Dallas 1
Morton passed for 205 yards and a touchdown in the win. Hill rushed for 73 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown while also adding two catches for 32 yards. Bob Hayes caught seven passes for 55 yards to lead the team in receiving.
Larry Brown, a rookie and future All-Pro running back that Lombardi drafted in 1969, led the Redskins with 61 rushing yards. Jurgensen passed for 206 yards, but was sacked five times and threw one interception. The leading receiver was Charley Taylor with six catches for 60 yards, but he also dropped two in the game.
Washington finished the season with a 7-5-2 mark under Lombardi.
Dallas would go on to lose for the second year in a row to the Cleveland Browns in the playoffs, but much better days lied ahead for the Cowboys.
The 1970 season was to be the first after the official NFL-AFL merger. It was the first year a wild card team from each conference made the playoffs along with three division winners.
Sadly, Lombardi wouldn't be around to see it.
On June 24, 1970, was diagnosed with colon cancer, and was told three days later that it was terminal. He died less than three months later on September 3 at age 57 -- just before the start of the season. His funeral was held four days later with numerous past and present players as well as NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Bill Austin stepped in as head coach, and the team went 6-8 that year.
However, Lombardi laid ground work for the Redskins and they began a successful run under George Allen beginning in 1971. The team wouldn't have a losing season the rest of the decade while Allen led the franchise to a Super Bowl appearance during the 1972 season.
Lombardi was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the following year and the Super Bowl trophy is now named in his honor. His career regular season coaching record was 98-34-6 and he went 9-1 in the playoffs. He's one of the greatest coaches in American sports history.
Lombardi was part of one of the greatest nicknames at Fordham. He was part of the "Greatest Game Ever Played" and was on the same coaching staff as Tom Landry with the New York Giants. He took Packers franchise that was at their lowest point ever into a winner and to the start of a record number of game sellouts at Lambeau Field. He led a Redskins team to their first winning season in 14 years. In all, Lombardi never had a losing season as NFL head coach. Although not known at the time of this game, it's most fitting now that his last game was against Landry, the man he was once on the same coaching staff with in New York before they both went on to become legendary head coaching figures. Lombardi is one of the most iconic figures in sports history.