There aren’t many names in the sports world that are considered almost royalty, but the Lombardi name holds special meaning in Wisconsin.
On March 9 at the Men of Christ conference, New Orleans Saints quarterback coach Joe Lombardi, grandson of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, spoke to a crowd of men some old enough to remember his grandfather.
“The Lombardi family, there’s always going to be a part of us, a part of our hearts here in Wisconsin, so every year I do love coming back to this state,” Lombardi said.
Like his grandfather, Lombardi is a devout Catholic and a member of Our Lady of the Lake Parish, Mandeville, La.
“Getting up and sharing my faith is not something that comes naturally to me; it’s not something that I’m very comfortable with,” Lombardi said.
Walking out on stage at the Milwaukee Theater while a piano played, “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Lombardi told stories about his grandfather and his faith.
“His faith was very important,” Lombardi said, adding his grandfather spent three years in the seminary. “He went to Mass every day and received the Eucharist. And Bart Starr would tell you if you heard him every afternoon at practice, you’d understood why he had to go to Mass everyday.”
He told the crowd his grandfather had three priorities in his life: faith, family and the Green Bay Packers.
“Now, I’ve learned to substitute the New Orleans Saints for the Green Bay Packers,” he said. “But to the extent that he could control his temper, to the extent he could control his volatile nature, he gave that credit to the strength that God gave him.”
Lombardi’s talk revolved around faith and football, often linking the two. He said Catholics need to be “coachable” and “stick to the church’s’ game plan.”
Every coach talks about the fundamentals, and being Catholic is no different, Lombardi said. He let the crowd in on a drill New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees does at the beginning of every practice for 10 minutes — an exchange between the center and quarterback. He explained it’s just to make sure the timing and the footwork is right.
“Our spiritual muscles, if you will, if we don’t exercise them we could lose them,” he said. “That’s what the fundamentals are … training ourselves to handle the challenge.”
He said as a coach he often looks at players to see how mentally tough they are.
“If you’re playing quarterback in the NFL, I don’t care how good you are, you’re going to have a bad pass, you’re going to have a bad series, a bad game, or occasionally, some of the best ones have a bad year,” he said.
It’s how the quarterback recovers from those times that can make a difference and Lombardi said the same goes for Catholics.
“I have a tendency to get discouraged,” Lombardi said. “I miss my morning prayers or then I miss a rosary, then I get disgusted with myself and pretty soon I’d gone several days without saying a prayer and that’s not being mentally tough.”
Being away from his family is a challenge.
“With six kids and the job that I have, my wife is often at home doing the heavy lifting,” he said. “You can pray anytime but I can’t be with my family every time.”
He told the crowd a story about when his wife was pregnant with their fifth child several years ago. It was a boy and as a family, they were deciding on a name.
“My wife said, ‘It’s got to be a saint’s name,’” he said. “We’re trying to raise these kids in a rich, Catholic home and we got crucifixes in every room … my oldest son looks up and says, ‘Like Reggie Bush?’”
Lombardi said it’s up to us to take the initiative to be motivated about faith and to motivate our children.
“It’s the things that you do, what you watch, what you listen to,” he said. “Make sure you’re taking the initiatives to search out those things to live the life you want to live. Because if you don’t, you just leave it up to the world.”
Mental toughness is something Lombardi has learned in his professional life.
“When I decided I was going to be a coach I knew that I’m never going to live up to what my grandfather did. Five NFL championships in seven years just doesn’t happen,” he said.
“Your faith, if practiced, and you’re doing the hard work, is always going to be there to strengthen you,” he said.