Unless you’ve stooped to examine the understated brass plaque embedded in the sidewalk at the corner of East 17th Street and Jerome Avenue, you might never see a public acknowledgement of neighborhood pride for one of Sheepshead Bay’s most famed native sons. “IN MEMORY OF VINCE LOMBARDI: 1913-1970,” the plaque reads. “Dedicated by the Sheepshead Bay Chamber of Commerce, 1974.”
Denis Hamill of the Daily News thinks that this small memorial and the two sites in Bensonhurst named for Lombardi – a public school and a short stretch of 16th Avenue – are far short of a fitting tribute to “arguably the greatest NFL coach in history.”
Lombardi, who was born in Brooklyn in 1913 and raised at 2542 East 14th Street, served as assistant coach of New York Giants for four years, before going on to win five NFL championships – including the first two Superbowls – as head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1959 to 1967.
“There should be a big, brawny, larger-than-life Vince Lombardi statue resting on a block of granite here in Sheepshead Bay,” Hamill wrote in The Daily News this past Saturday.
Citing Lombardi’s rise over anti-Italian discrimination and zero-tolerance for bigotry from his players – even before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Hamill writes that he “embodied the Brooklyn ethic of triumph over adversity through tireless hard work.”
Hamill spoke to several community leaders about their memories of the famed coach, including Richard Stockley, the building manager at St. Mark’s Church where Lombadi served as an altar boy. “I remember Vince as a tough, gruff guy who loved to laugh, and a devout daily communicant. When he spoke, it was like the word of God in this neighborhood,” Stockley recalled.
George Pompilio, co-owner of Gothic Press, a print shop around the corner from Lombardi’s childhood home, had similarly warm memories. “That Lombardi came from the neighborhood made him our hero,” he said. “That he was Italian was a cherry on the cake.”
There is no word yet as to whether community groups are backing Hamill’s proposal, nor where the statue would be erected.
What do you think? Does Sheepshead Bay need a “big, brawny” Vince Lombardi statue?