"Winning isn't everything, but losing is nothing" (1971)

Mullins, Bill Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL
Wed Dec 29 05:44:18 UTC 2004

>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Fred Shapiro <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU>
>Subject:      Re: "Winning isn't everything, but losing is nothing"
>> The version with "it's the only thing" is often attributed to Vince
>> Lombardi, but there's a 1954 Washington Post article where the saying
>> is given by Redskins coach Joe Kuharich.  (There are also variations
>> where *money* isn't everything, etc.)
>I believe the earliest citation is Red Sanders quoted in the L.A. Times
>in 1950, discovered by Barry Popik.  I would welcome any earlier evidence.
>Fred Shapiro

Barry's find, from the ADS-L, 20 Mar 2004:

"ART ROSENBAUM. Los Angeles Times (1886-Current File). Los Angeles, Calif.:
Oct 18, 1950. p. C3 (1 page): Here's one on Red Sanders, as told by himself
this summer at Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) physical education workshop.
Speaking about football victories, Sanders told his group: "Men, I'll be
honest. Winning isn't everything. (Long pause.) Men, it's the only thing!"
(Laughter.) "

>From _Nice Guys Finish Seventh_, Ralph Keyes, HarperCollins 1992, p. 154:
[after a discussion of the 1953 John Wayne movie, Trouble Along the Way, in
which the phrase is used]
"In a telephone conversation with, Melville Shavelson, the movie's
producer-screenwriter, told me that this line came from UCLA football coach,
Red Sanders.  UCLA's athletic department referred me to a 1955 Sports
Illustrated profile of Sanders.  This profile quoted Sanders as having said,
"Sure, winning isn't everything.  It's the only thing.
     Before going to Los Angeles, Sanders coached at Vanderbilt from 1940 to
1948.  Both Vanderbilt's 1946-1948 sports information director and a sports
columnist for the Nashville Banner have confirmed that Sanders used this
saying at the time.  No one knows whether it was original with him.  Sanders
was a quotable, well-read man.  "Winning isn't everything" may have been his
own coinage."

Keyes also says that it has been attributed to Washington Redskin coach Joe
Kuharich (NYT 1/29/81), and Bill Veeck (NYT Magazine, 10/18/64).

David Maraniss' book on V. Lombardi, _When Pride Still Mattered_, p. 369:
"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
     If Red Sanders coined the phrase, as it appears he did, it would be
appropriate.  Before heading for UCLA and the West Coast in 1949, Sanders
had been at Vanderbilt. He was the best fried of the most revered
sportswriter in Nashville, Fred Russell fo the Nashville Banner, and by
extension, also close to Russell's mentor, Grantland Rice, who had gone on
from Vanderbilt and Nashville to become the great mythmaker of sports in New
York. . . According to Russell, who continued writing his column into his
nineties in the late 1990's, 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 recalled." "

Maraniss says that the phrase also appeared in the 1961 San Diego Chargers
yearbook:  "Before Lombardi put it on his locker room wall, it had already
appeared in the yearbook of the 1961 San Diego Chargers, then coached by Sid
Gillman, who decades earlier had preceded Lombardi as Colonel Blaik's line
coach bach when MacArthur was declaring that there was no substitute for
victory.  Perhaps the lineage traces back through West Point.  "Winning
isn't everything to Coach Sid Gillman," the Chargers yearbook biography
began.  "It's the only thing." "

Lombardi had been an assistant to Red Blaik at West Point.  Blaik had said
(quoted in Maraniss) "the purpose of the game is to win."  He was strongly
influenced by Douglas MacArthur: "There is no substitute for victory."

So, it almost certainly comes from Red Sanders.  If it is to be antedated
before Barry Popik's 1950 LA Times cite, it will most likely be in
discussions of Red Sanders at UCLA (Los Angeles papers, UCLA yearbooks or
papers), or at Vanderbilt (Nashville newspapers -- perhaps Fred Russell's
writings in the Banner, or in the Nashville Tennessean; Vandy yearbooks or
newspapers (the Hustler -- online archives only go back to 2001)), possibly
at Columbia Military Academy (now reorganized as Columbia Academy), or in
other Fred Russell writings (he had several books out by 1950, and had a
regular football roundup in the Saturday Evening Post starting in 1949).  To
the extent it was popularized, however, by association with Lombardi, the
attitude it represents goes all the way back to Douglas MacArthur.

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