Last week Bill shared the following story with his Facebook friends. He wrote it for our sons, so they wouldn’t forget the story of their grandma…
Next Sunday, the Super Bowl between the Seahawks and the Broncos will be played at Metropolitan Life Stadium and the Vince Lombardi trophy will be awarded a few miles from where Lombardi began his career in Englewood, New Jersey. That thought brings back memories about my mother’s family who went to school in Englewood at St. Cecilia’s, the high school where Lombardi launched his career as a teacher and then a coach. Our sons will be over Sunday night and we will watch the Super Bowl, and perhaps we will talk about what it was like when Grandma played for Vince Lombardi.
We have long had the book Run to Daylight! on our bookshelf, a hand-me-down from the previous generation and our days as fans of Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers. Of course, there are other hand-me-downs, most in the form of stories, pictures, and high school yearbooks from Grandma’s time as a student and athlete.
My children have heard stories of the time their grandmother and her sister and two brothers went to school at St. Cecilia’s where Lombardi was a coach and teacher. Grandma played basketball, not football, of course, at a time when women played six-on-six, and only a few players ran the length of the court to both score and play defense. Lombardi, of course, wanted practice and perfection, and Grandma was all about that. It was the same in Lombardi’s chemistry class, and she told a few stories about his expectations on studying and tests.
Some of the details have been lost over time, and it’s been over eight years since Grandma passed on, but a few of the stories are indelible. My son is now reading David Maraniss’ When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, which covers much of Lombardi’s career. The facts about Lombardi’s time at St. Cecilia’s are in the book, the classes he taught, and the sports he coached. These all helped bring a tangible reality to the stories Grandma told, validation of memories created long ago.
And now, Ian O’Connor, a writer for ESPN and one of the last graduates of St. Cecilia’s before it closed in 2011, has done it one better. He conducted interviews and wrote this fantastic story about Vince Lombardi and his time in New Jersey – The Gospel of Saint Vince. Listening to the people in the video interviews brought back rich memories of stories I heard as a child. I had long heard Mom tell of having Lombardi as a coach and how much they loved playing for him. It was never clear to me how Lombardi had time to coach the women’s and men’s basketball teams, but here it is spelled out by Grandma’s classmates, and at least one woman, now 89, who was on Grandma’s team. After all, Grandma was the captain of that team.
Vince Lombardi and Andy Palau signed Grandma’s St. Cecilia’s high school yearbook. Andy Palau was the quarterback and teammate of Lombardi at Fordham University. Palau hired Lombardi, and then left to coach at his alma mater.
According to the article and the players, Lombardi was also a very good basketball coach. He ran up an excellent record with the men’s basketball team, though he had no background in basketball or experience as a player. Although I have no recollection of Grandma talking about wins and losses, and there’s no record for the team listed in the yearbook, in the ESPN article, Rosemary Maroldi Deimars says that she does not remember losing as a St. Cecilia player.
Grandma’s youngest brother played football for Lombardi a few years after Grandma graduated. According to Grandma, he was skinny and may never have played varsity, even though according to the article, the fullback on Lombardi’s best high school team was only 150 pounds. And that team was considered the best in the entire country, marked by a victory over a consistently great team named Brooklyn Prep who had a star senior by the name of Joe Paterno. Lombardi ran up 32 wins in a row at St. Cecilia’s, the only place he was ever head football coach before taking over the Green Bay Packers in 1959.
Joe Diemar wrote this note to Grandma in the yearbook. Joe Diemar married Rosemary Maroldi and was also interviewed for the ESPN article.
Even though we grew up in Alexandria and were Redskins fans, Grandma always had us rooting for the Packers and Lombardi when they were on TV; of course, which meant during the championship games and the first Super Bowls that Lombardi’s teams dominated. Grandma was ecstatic when the Washington Post announced that Lombardi would be coming to Washington to coach the Redskins. Many times she said she wanted to go to a game and shout to him from the stands, and wondered if he would remember her. I remember the devastation when news got out that Lombardi had terminal cancer and would die after only a year in Washington, and she had not taken the opportunity to go out and root for her former teacher and coach.
The one story and lesson that stood out most was from chemistry class. Grandma said Lombardi always taught her to study and be prepared and letting Lombardi down was unthinkable. When Lombardi handed back a big test on Monday, he rapped the chalkboard to get attention, and, with absolute silence in the class, asked if anyone had studied for the test. Well if you had studied, you shouldn’t worry. Then he said, had anyone listened to the gospel of Matthew on Sunday? And with a huge grin and his booming voice, he said if you paid attention you would know that the parable said the righteous will be rewarded, and for the rest, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Grandma was not only good at basketball, she was also very good at chemistry, having taken her first formal classes from Vince Lombardi. She eventually went to graduate school in chemistry at Fordham University in the Bronx where Lombardi had been one of the Seven Blocks of Granite on Fordham’s championship teams. She would meet Grandpa there in graduate school and get married as Grandpa completed his PhD in chemistry.
- Does your family enjoy talking about family stories from way back when?
- What’s your favorite story of a parent or grandparent?
- As a child, did you ever interview a parent for a school paper?