Ben McAdoo is no Vince Lombardi.
At least not when it comes to being an assistant for one team and then facing his old organization as head coach of the other team in the Giants-Packers rivalry.
While McAdoo has suppressed any opportunity to either wistfully recall his eight seasons as an assistant in Green Bay under Mike McCarthy or admit how much he would like to beat his former boss and mentor, Lombardi showed no such restraint when it came to facing the Giants.
“Lombardi enjoyed beating two teams above all else: the Giants and the Cowboys,” said Ernie Palladino, author of the book “Lombardi and Landry,” which examined the two legendary coaches’ time together as assistants with the Giants. “He always held a bitterness toward the Giants for not giving him the head-coaching job despite his close friendship with Wellington [Mara].”
According to a 1959 report in the Milwaukee Sentinel just before his first game back at Yankee Stadium with the Packers, Lombardi sent word through a scout for the Giants to “expect trouble” in their Nov. 1 meeting. The two teams already had faced off in a preseason contest in Bangor, Maine, and in the Giants’ 14-0 victory (the only shutout of any kind during Lombardi’s career as a head coach), former Giants defensive back Emlen Tunnell, who had just joined the Packers along with Lombardi, knocked out Giants starters Mel Triplett and Joe Morrison.
Lombardi’s regular-season threats came from a rookie head coach of a team that had one win the previous season as he prepared to face a squad that was coming off a loss in the 1958 NFL Championship Game (aka “The Greatest Game Ever Played”).
The hard feelings at the time were mutual.
“Nothing would give me more pleasure than to beat his brains out Sunday,” Giants coach Jim Lee Howell said of Lombardi, though he later insisted the quote was taken out of context.
Passion & discipline
Such hostilities are a far cry from the admiration the Packers expressed for McAdoo as they approached their first game against him Sunday at Lambeau Field. Instead of wanting to “beat his brains out,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers recalled workouts and wardrobe choices with his former position coach.
“Occasionally, he would put on some Insanity in our meeting room and we’d do like a 20-minute Insanity stretch or workout in there,” Rodgers said of the popular cardio training video. “Ben’s famous for his workouts. He’s also famous for his layering. You know the short sleeves under long sleeves under short sleeves. I always appreciated that about him.”
Rodgers said he also liked McAdoo’s response to his jokes.
“Ben is always fun to rib because he’s such a Type-A personality. Sometimes you had to remind him that you’re just kidding around,” the quarterback said. “He’s quick with a quip right back at you and they can be cutting. So I always appreciate his sense of humor. He was a lot of fun to work with.”
McCarthy shared thoughts that were more practical but no less sincere.
“Anyone who has had the opportunity to work with Ben clearly understands his passion and discipline for the coaching profession,” McCarthy said. “He earned every opportunity that he was given and he more importantly did a great job with his opportunities. That’s a big part of why he is the head coach of the New York Giants. He has worked his tail off to get it and he is doing a hell of a job.”
‘A little extra’
While McAdoo was not quick to return the warm, fuzzy thoughts — he gave a blunt “no” when asked if he felt any nostalgia about returning to Green Bay — his players know how much this game must mean to him.
“Any time a player, coach, anybody, goes back to an organization that they have been associated with, you want to go out there and put up a good performance,” Eli Manning said. “We understand that and we definitely want to go out there and play well.”
Guard Justin Pugh said McAdoo has been “stoic” about his return, but he knows that is just a front.
“Obviously, deep down there’s a little extra,” Pugh said. “You go back and you’re going against the team that you used to coach and city you used to live in. There’s no way around that. Just going in and making sure you’re preparing and doing a little extra, whatever the extra is. I can see that happening.”
And maybe he’ll be able to do something Lombardi couldn’t: Beat his former team the first time out.
As for that 1959 game at a sold-out Yankee Stadium, the Giants won convincingly, 20-3. Afterward, Lombardi conceded that the Giants had “the greatest defensive team in football. These guys just don’t make mistakes.”
The Sentinel described Lombardi as “one of the most dejected men in Manhattan” after the loss.
“The Giants overpowered Lombardi’s passers and runners from the start and never stopped pressing,” the article read. “Lombardi admitted he was pretty much in the dumps. For the first time in his life, New York probably felt like a big, lonely town.”