There was a full house at Sunset Circle. Susan lived at home again after a short and unhappy stint at a Dominican-run secretarial school in Boca Raton. Vincent and Jill came down from St. Paul, and now they had two boys, Vincent II and John. Vincent was working days and going to law school at night. The father-son relationship had developed another odd twist. Vince rarely had time to watch Vincent play in college, but now he insisted that Vincent attend as many Packers games as possible. Lombardi the family man? Partly, no doubt, but there was also a measure of superstition involved. The Packers had won a key game the year before when Vincent was there, and ever since the Old Man thought of him as a talisman. Vincent loved football, he had grown up standing on the sidelines, but sometimes this good-luck business seemed more for his dad's benefit than his own.
At his father's request, he had once boarded a flight in St. Paul during a heavy storm to attend a game in Green Bay. The plane was diverted to Milwaukee and he ended up studying his law books and watching the Packers on television at the airport. Another time he brought Jill along for a preseason game in Milwaukee. They had left the boys with a babysitter and were excited about having a night alone at the Pfister Hotel. At dinner after the game, Vincent and Jill were startled to hear the Old Man suddenly announce "We're going home!"
"Jeez, Dad, it's kind of late," Vincent pleaded.
"I'll drive halfway and you drive halfway," Lombardi said, and that was that. Vincent and Jill packed up, and soon they were in the car with Vince and Marie, heading north to Green Bay. Five miles up the highway, Lombardi pulled over. "My knees are killing me," he said to Vincent. "You drive."
Maybe it had all done some good. The Packers had finished in first place again. They had finished first in the newfangled Central Division of the Western Conference with a 9-4-1 record, and then whipped the Los Angeles Rams in the playoff game for the western title. Critics were saying that the Packers were too old and slow aside from their one breathtaking rookie, Travis Williams, known as The Roadrunner, a return specialist who had run four kickoffs back for touchdowns, including two against the Browns in one game. Yet here they were, back in the championship, playing for their record third straight NFL title against the Dallas Cowboys. If standing on the sideline in subzero weather this afternoon could help them win one more time, Vincent was game.
Not much was said about the temperature in the Lombardi house. There was little talking about the game at all that morning. "Everybody was very uptight," Susan recalled. Vincent II had been up all night with a fever, distracting everyone, including the coach, who patted his grandson on the head before leaving for church. The cars were in the heated garage; Vince's Pontiac started right up. Silence on the way to mass. The priest prayed for the Packers. All quiet on the way back. Then Vince and Vincent left, driving clockwise south to the bridge crossing the Fox in downtown De Pere, then west to Highway 41, north to the Highland Avenue exit and east to Lambeau Field.
The Sabols were already there, positioning eleven cameramen around the stadium. They sent a technician up to the scoreboard to place a microphone near a camera that peeked through one of the number holes. When it came time for a pregame group meeting, one member of the crew was missing. What happened? He had brought a flask with him and had taken a few shots of bourbon to stay warm -- a few too many, it seemed. He had passed out cold and might have frozen to death behind the scoreboard had they not gone looking for him. The parking lots were starting to fill up by 11 a.m., two hours before game time, with many Packers fans insisting on going through their pregame rituals as though it was just another winter day in paradise. Not as many tailgaters as usual, but they were still out there. Folding chairs, card tables, brats and beer. One concession to the weather: more of them than usual were huddled around fires. Jim Irwin, a local TV sports director, arrived at the press box two hours before kickoff, and looked out and saw hundreds of people already stationed at their seats. "They didn't have to be in the stands," he noted. "They had reserved tickets. They chose to be out there when it was thirteen below."
Copyright © 1999 by David Maraniss. Published with the permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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