Dave Robinson: Lombardi never tolerated head-to-head hits

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The great Packers coach Vince Lombardi is often used as the embodiment of a time when men were men, football players were tough, and no one complained about too much helmet-to-helmet contact. But one of Lombardi’s players says that in reality, Lombardi was concerned about players’ well-being and coached players to avoid hits to the head.

Dave Robinson, a linebacker who was voted into the Hall of Fame this year, played 12 years in the NFL, including five seasons on Lombardi’s Packers in the 1960s. And Robinson told USA Today that Lombardi would stand behind NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in his efforts to make the game safer.

He was very strict about dirty play,” Robinson said. “He would never have stood for helmet-to-helmet contact, he just wouldn’t have.”

Robinson said he thinks that old-school coaches, who grew up playing football in the days of leather helmets and no facemasks, came up at a time when players hit with their shoulders and therefore coached that way. (Here’s a picture of Lombardi in college — players wearing those kinds of helmets avoided leading with their heads as a matter of self-preservation.)

“There are no more Vince Lombardis, there are no more Paul Browns, there are no more George Halases,” Robinson said. “They were all the guys who worked at it for years and years and really understood the profession. [NFL coaches today] have never been taught the correct way to tackle. If they’ve never been taught, how in the heck can you expect them to teach it?”

Lombardi didn’t want his players to grab, grab, grab, but he didn’t want them to lead with the crowns of their helmets, either. The NFL wants to see a return to the Lombardi style of form tackling.

43 responses to “Dave Robinson: Lombardi never tolerated head-to-head hits

  1. Of course we know Jack Tatum and James Harrison always wanted to deal out concussions…..or worse.

  2. Lombardi was clearly a total badass. He’s gotta be on the NFL Mt. Rushmore. GOAT and way ahead of his time on player safety and social issues.

  3. The problem is you have a bunch of kids that learned how to play by watching highlight reels on ESPN. All of them want that kill shot, that highlight reel worthy hit. If media sources stop parading and idiotic hit that would help a lot.
    There are proper form tackles that are far more effective.

    Take off the face mask, see how many players are willing to lunge/launch themselves for a tackle.

  4. Who cares what Lombardi would’ve or wouldn’t of liked, the games changed tremendously since his packers were beating the Appleton Muskrats in 1930.

  5. I don’t know if what Dave Robinson says is true. However, if someone did perform a head to head hit there was no penalty or fines. It Robinson’s day you could be head slapped, forearmed in the face or head, poked in the eye, have your head twisted any which way and on and on. Watch the old games. Watch Joe Greene punch and offensive lineman from Denver in the stomach on national television. No penalty. No fines. Watch Butkus, Bednerick, Deacon Jones. Let’s see Jerry Rice run his routes in Robinson’s day when the DB’s, LB’s could hit you as much as they wanted until the ball was in the air. And when I say hit I don’t mean chip you. I mean forearm to the face and / or head. Maybe a poke in the eye for good measure. Then let me see you still get to the ball.

  6. Lets start getting back to old school then and invest a little bit of that 9 billion into testing out leather helmets.

    Issue them in time for minicamp next year or in 2015 and let teams mess around with them during the off-season. Then designate the first preseason game as a leather helmet game and see how it goes (everyone including Goodell agrees there are too many of those anyway).

    Then finish out the preseason and regular season with standard modern helmets.

    If there is a strong positive response all around to that leather helmet game, the league will have a year+ or 2+ years to carefully reintroduce the leather helmet era.

    Whether it works or not, the league will make tons of dough on the merchandise and publicity that comes from this experiment and it would be a nice change to move back closer to old school football for once as opposed to trying to cram 50 years of football evolution into 3 or 4 seasons.

    I’m sure there are several reasons why this probably wouldn’t work but its no dopier than half the other “enhancements” that have been shoved down our throats lately.

  7. I don’t think you can say that NFL coaches have never been taught the correct way to tackle. My fifth-grade son played football last year and his coaches taught him the correct way to tackle. Seems like NFL coaches would have picked it up somewhere along the line.

  8. Got any statistical evidence that Lambardi coached teams had less helmet to helmet hits than in today’s game? That would be an interesting study.

  9. Unfortunately, you see way too much of this -even in high school these days. I’ve seen many players trying to ‘light someone up’ on every play, and completely miss the ball carrier. And these are above average players, that, if they would just break-down and use the proper technique, they would likely make most of the tackles. Too many that are trying to make the high-light reel…

  10. The NFL was NOT wearing leather helmets when Lombardi coached the Packers. The were decades earlier when Halas founded the modern NFL.

  11. How many of Lombardi’s ex-players are participants in the concussion lawsuit?

    These guys come from an era where they didn’t get paid much. If they are needful, they deserve getting assistance from the league. They shouldn’t have to sue for it – concussions or not. They were pivital in making the game the success it is today.

  12. Great coach. I wish coaches who worship him buy into this no hitting with the head business.

    Coaches love big hits, head or not and kids sense that. Parents who don’t know, love big hits and so does the media, though they can later shame the same play for more ratings.

  13. Ironically, Paul Brown is the one who introduced the facemask to modern pro football.

  14. So he didnt tolerate head shots, but putting listening devices in opposing teams locker rooms was ok? Hmmm. Interesting set of morals there.

  15. Proper tackling techniques have been taught since at least the middle ’70s. We were taught to never lead with the top of the helmet, to have your head up so you could see your target and tackle with the shoulder. When tackling someone coming straight on to you we were taught to aim with our face while closing and then hitting with the shoulder. The coaches also stressed neck and shoulder stretching and strengthening work. And we ran, and ran, and ran every day in conditioning drills (4th quarter drills at the end of practice).

  16. Coach Lombardi was the greatest NFL coach ever. That said, I wonder how much of this is people trying to make him into a saint now. No one knows how Lombardi would have reacted to today’s NFL, today’s players or even today’s society. I don’t think Lombardi had to deal with gang members or killers on the Packers, did he?

  17. Just wanted to reiterate and expand what a few others have said. The sport has steadily advanced player armor to the point that players can now use their bodies as weapons with little risk of injuring themselves. This is most obvious for the head which is now embedded within advanced foam and gel cushioning surrounded by a rock hard plastic shell.
    I enjoy football 100x more than rugby, but rugby will show you quickly how big, strong and fast dudes tackle each other when they are not wearing body armor. You can still hit someone hard, but a brutal hit is a shoulder to the chest, not a head coming like a projectile into another head. The answer for the NFL is simple, they don’t need more armor, they need a lot less. And don’t say players won’t adjust fast enough, because you learn very quickly not to lead with your head when the result is having your own bell rung.

  18. Where are all the keyboard tough guys. The ones that say Goodell is ruining the game by fining NFL players(steelers and ravens), and turning the game into flag football. It’s not as if you can make a hard, tough form tackle without the head shot, right? At least that’s how they coach it in SW PA.

  19. I know why these stories and the rule changes get lumped into the issue of safety, but they shouldn’t. Safety is the result. The issue is fundamentals. None of the rule changes deviate from what you were taught about the game of football as a child. The problem is with the officials trying to make a judgement call in a fraction of a second. But as a fan who hates instant replay, I’m ok with the bad calls from time to time. Human error is a part of every sport which is what is suppose to separates the fundamentally sound teams from the not. The moral… Don’t hit with the top of your helmet because that’s not how football is played.

  20. Ernest Borgnine played Lombardi in a TV movie in the 70’s. It would be great if NFL Network would play that movie. They looked like brothers.

  21. No one knows how Lombardi would have reacted to today’s NFL, today’s players or even today’s society. I don’t think Lombardi had to deal with gang members or killers on the Packers, did he?

    And he wouldn’t have had to deal with them today either because he wouldn’t have tolerated it.

  22. I have a job that allows me to tackle people now and then. Last week I lit a guy up good. My shoulder went through his back. Textbook tackle form from being taught in 7th grade.

  23. I love the man. I cherish him. Vince made me a better person.

    Lombardi taught me that I should not wish it was easier… But I should wish I was better.

    No.. I Never played the game. Never met the man…. But I read three books on the man.

    Vince is still teaching… 43 years after he left us all.

  24. jsbrasha says it best…..High level rugby is a fast, hard hitting game played by tough, hard hitting players without body armor. There is nothing lame or pussified about it. It is a however, a textbook example of how to take a runner down effectively and with force and bruising power,something that far too many football players are demonstrably incapable of far too often….self preservation is a helluva drug….take away the weapons and real tackling will return in 1.2.3……

  25. I only played high school and college football but I always lead with my shoulders which is the very reason I cant raise either arm above shoulder level but I dont have memory losses and I can find my way home at 64 yrs old. the only time I was taught to use my head was, helmet up, face forward and hit with the forehead, the head wont jam in a downward motion and cause head or neck trauma but I see players using the crown (top) of the helmet which is not its intended purpose.

  26. Folks like Lombardi understood the difference between “tough” and “dirty”, which many people today don’t. Nailing someone in the head with your helmet is not tough or badass, its dirty and it only knocks you and the other guy out then you can’t play. Why would Lombardi ever endorse something like that, and I’m glad Robinson said these things to clear that up.

    And as for someone else’s post about old school football being worse than today? a punch in the stomach isn’t going to end your career and have you slurring your speech for 40 years.

  27. I distinctly remember Packers players clothes lining guys across the middle. Yeah, tough. Give me a break.

  28. Who are the tards (or turds) who click “thumbs down” to any replies that only praise the greatest NFL Coach to ever lived & who the Super Bowl trophy is named after????

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