Lombardi's "Winning isn't everything"

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Sun Nov 14 08:11:31 UTC 1999

by David Maraniss (author of the Bill Clinton book, FIRST IN HIS CLASS)
Simon & Schuster, 1999
$26, 541 pages, hardcover

       "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" is on pg. 928 of the
QUOTATIONARY (1962 and 1967 quotes are given), in BARTLETT'S, on pg. 374 of
originated in the United States in 1953, and it is often attributed to
Vanderbilt University coach Red Sanders."), and pg. 533 of the AHDOAQ.

Pg. 26:  "the Jug"--after-school detention.
Pg. 102:  "Eyewash!"/"Jesus Katy!"/"Jeebers Katy!" (various exclamations--ed.)
Pg. 168:  Run to daylight--later the phrase would become the trademark of
Lombardi's offense in Green Bay, but it was conceived in 1956 on the practice
field in Vermont.
Pg. 192:  Misbehaving players on the other eleven NFL teams were threatened
with trades to "the salt mines of Siberia," as Green Bay was known around the
Pg. 206:  The "Green Bay Packahs," as Lombardi called them...
Pg. 318:  "...a second addiction of the people in Green Bay is the phrase
'real great,' which they use as frequently and with as many shades of
intonation and meaning as the French do with 'ca va.'"
Pg. 366:  Although he never shied away from the violence of the game,
insisting that football was "not a contact sport, but a collision sport," he
did not encourage dirty play.  (No exact quote is given.  See my previous
Duffy Daugherty posting--ed.)
Pg. 366:  The signature phrase itself--"winning isn't everything, it's the
only (pg. 367--ed.) thing"--was not coined by Lombardi, and in fact the first
time it was recorded for posterity, it was uttered not by Lombardi or by any
other football coach but by an eleven-year-old actress.  Its etymology goes
back decades before the philosopher coach reached his rhetorical apogee in
Green Bay in the mid-1960s, but the best place to start is in Hollywood in
1953 with the screenwriter Melville Shavelson.  Warner Brothers had optioned
a piece of short fiction from the _Saturday Evening Post_ about a football
coach at a small Catholic college, and recruited Shavelson to write the
screenplay, which he agreed to do after also being made producer.  He sent
the script to John Wayne, who surprised everyone by taking the starring role,
even though, as Shavelson said, the football coach "didn't ride a horse or
shoot a gun."
     The script became the movie _Trouble Along the Way_, which was a box
office flop...
     (Pg. 368--ed.)  "Is winning so important?"
     And from the mouth of an eleven-year-old girl comes the immortal answer.
 "Listen," she responds.  "Like Steve says, 'Winning isn't everything, it's
the only thing!'" (...)  It was from this milieu of Hollywood mythology and
deceit that Lombardi's trademark phrase arose.
     (Pg. 360--ed.)  As to the famous phrase, Shavelson said that it came
from his Hollywood agent, who also happened to represent the colorful UCLA
football coach Henry "Red" Sanders.  "The agent quoted me the line once and
said that he had heard Sanders say it," Shavelson recalled.  "That's how it
got in the script."
     If Red Sanders coined the phrase, as it appears he did, it would be
appropriate. (...)  He was known for his sardonic wit and frequent use of
sayings. (...)
     According to (the Nashville Banner's Frank--ed.) Russell, who continued
writing his column into his nineties in the late 1990s, Sanders first uttered
the winning isn't everything phrase long before he reached UCLA, indeed
before he began at Vanderbilt.  "I remember hearing him saying it back in the
mid-1930s, when he was coaching at the Columbia Military Academy," Russell

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