86: A Chance to Say Thank You

86: A Chance to Say Thank You

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tales of Golf and Sport

A Chance to Say Thank You

One can pay back the loan of gold, but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind.

~Malayan Proverb

I played for Vince Lombardi for nine of my sixteen years in pro football. I know well his coaching accomplishments with the Green Bay Packers and his skill at teaching and motivating players. There are more stories about Coach’s methods and results than any other person associated with the National Football League, in that era or any time.

One sign of the respect and affection Lombardi inspired is that everyone called him simply “Coach”—all the players, the trainers, the grounds crew, everyone associated with the Packers organization; the sportswriters and media; avid Green Bay fans. Even people on the street who had never attended a game at Lambeau Field called Lombardi simply “Coach,” with pride and thanks in their voice.

His reputation is deserved, even today, nearly three decades after his death, for he was a true original—a colorful, always passionate man who loved the game and those who loved it. He did not abide loose play and nonchalance. He expected and respected commitment. However, my most cherished memory of Coach is far more personal.

Coach left the Packers in 1969 to become head coach and general manager of the Washington Redskins. In May 1970, he returned to Green Bay for a visit and some time with his golfing buddies. My wife Cherry and I were surprised to receive a call from him on Saturday morning, asking if he could stop by to see our new home, which had recently been completed. Of course!

He greeted us warmly upon arriving and asked for a “walk-through” of the house. Afterward, we sat in the family room trading quips and reflecting on our great years together. Cherry and I were obviously pleased we could spend some time with him. Coach seemed relaxed, complimenting Cherry on details of how she had furnished the house and saying how happy he was for us.

“Coach,” she said, “none of this would have been possible if you had not believed in Bart; if you had not given him the opportunity you did. We are very grateful to you.”

I was surprised to see Coach’s eyes fill with tears. He rose immediately, announcing he had to leave. He embraced both of us and walked out.

A short time later we learned Coach had been diagnosed with the cancer that would quickly take his life less than four months later, on September 3, 1970.

Cherry and I will always cherish that visit with Coach. We were blessed with a rare and timely opportunity to say “Thank you,” to express our appreciation for what a truly great man had done to change our lives.

~Bart Starr
Chicken Soup for the Sports Fan’s Soul

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