There’s a meme I see often on the Internet—shown here on a T-shirt sold by www.spreadshirt.com. WWLD–What Would Lombardi Do? It refers, of course, to Vince Lombardi, the late Green Bay Packers coach whose name is synonymous with winning.
I’ve had four days to reflect on the debacle in Seattle: the Packers’ 36-16 drubbing at the hands of the Seahawks. What rankles most—what really frosts me—is the Packers’ failure to throw a pass to All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman’s side of the field. That’s right, the offense operated on half the field. It just seemed so … how can I say it? … so un-Lombardi-esque.
I wrote of Lombardi in Incomplete Passes: “The main lesson I remember is that he didn’t focus on an opponent’s weakness. Instead, he looked for their strength and attacked them there. If the Packers executed perfectly, the opposition couldn’t beat them. We’d take away their best weapon and leave them nothing to use against us.”
Following this philosophy, Lombardi, rather than avoiding Sherman, would have engaged him immediately. It could have been a spectacular fail, in which case the Packers would be no worse off than they are now. But if the play had succeeded, it not only would have put points on the Packers’ side of the scoreboard, it might have taken the crowd, Seattle’s famed Twelfth Man, out of the game.
Did I just imagine that this was Lombardi’s credo, and if it indeed was, why didn’t the Packers’ current coach, Mike McCarthy, go along with it? Was this simply the fevered fancy of a smitten fan, a young girl in Lombardi’s day? Time for some research.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tyler Dunne confirmed my thinking. In an article headed “Packers played scared vs. Seahawks and it cost them,” Dunne quoted Sherman himself, saying via Twitter, “When you are great, you make your opponent adjust to you. You don’t adjust to suit them.”
That still didn’t address the issue of what Vince would have done. But I quickly found corroboration in Vince: A Personal Biography of Vince Lombardi by Michael O’Brien (1987, William Morrow & Company, Inc.). O’Brien wrote: “Borrowing from Colonel Earl Blaik, Vince occasionally tried to destroy an opponent’s morale by attacking its strength. ‘If you can bring down their best men, it’s all over,’ he argued.” O’Brien qualified his statement by saying Vince sometimes took the easy route. But my theory was valid.
More proof comes from Run to Win: Vince Lombardi on Coaching and Leadership, by Donald T. Phillips (2007, St. Martin’s Press): “While the Packers devised separate game plans for each opponent, there also were a number of general strategies that were employed on a consistent and regular basis. One general strategy frequently employed, for instance, was to focus on whatever strong points their opponents had. ‘(His philosophy) was to attack a man at his strength,’ remembered seven-time All-Pro center Jim Ringo, ‘and once they were vulnerable the weaker points would come more readily. That’s the way we attacked as a team.’”
Statue of Vince Lombardi outside Lambeau Field
I get it, Coach McCarthy. This is 2014, not 1965. Tradition is glorious, but it also can be terrible to live up to. It can’t be easy to come to work every day at Lambeau Field on Lombardi Avenue, where the walls drip with memories and comparisons (even from people like me, who have never played the game) are not only inevitable but often unflattering. It’s unfair to make you operate in the shadow of a coach who died when you were not quite seven years old, and who probably seems as distant as George Washington to your players. But I believe my argument stands.
Richard Sherman is a talented performer, probably almost as good as he thinks he is, but he isn’t Superman. Coach, you’ve got Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the game. Jarrett Boykin, who lined up on Sherman’s side, may be your #3 receiver, but he generally lives up to his Twitter handle, @BoyKinHeCatch. Couldn’t you have pitted them against Sherman even once? It might not have worked, but it would have sent a different message, not only to the Seahawks but also to the Packers’ underperforming defense.
Okay, I know this was only one game. The Packers can conceivably go 15-1 and meet the Seahawks again in the playoffs. With a few breaks, that may even take place at Lambeau instead of CenturyLink Field. I’ll be in Green Bay next Sunday, and I fully expect to see my Packers throttle the New York Jets …. on Alumni Weekend, with Lombardi-era legends Willie Davis, Bart Starr, Dave Robinson, and Boyd Dowler looking on.
But, Coach Mike, as you prepare for that game, I hope you’ll think what I’ve been thinking: What would Lombardi do? And, whatever it is, for
God’s Vince’s sake, do it.