Lombardi's grave in New Jersey a simple monument to a legendary coach

Vince Lombardi's grave in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Middletown, N.J., has become a place of pilgrimage.
Vince Lombardi's grave in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Middletown, N.J., has become a place of pilgrimage.
Posted: January 07, 2011

MIDDLETOWN, N.J. - Vince Lombardi's modest grave here looks pretty good considering that its occupant allegedly has been turning like a barbecue spit these last 41 years.

Most recently, just two weeks before the Eagles meet Lombardi's old team, the Green Bay Packers, in Sunday's NFC first-round game at Lincoln Financial Field, the now-familiar image of the straight-laced coach doing subterranean revolutions was invoked by Ed Rendell.

Pennsylvania's governor, incensed when the mere threat of snow postponed the Vikings-Eagles game, said the decision undoubtedly had Lombardi "spinning in his grave."

Over the years, others often have asserted the same, using the long-dead coach as a symbol for an NFL that they remember but no longer exists.

Lombardi's corpse has been said to rotate when players performed end-zone dances, grew their hair too long, endorsed cosmetic products, held out for bigger salaries, stepped out of bounds before taking a hit, wore earrings, traveled in something other than a suit and tie, signed big contracts before ever playing a game, or took time off for any injury that didn't require amputation.

Lombardi is buried here in vast Mount Olivet Cemetery. The grave he shares with his wife, Marie - unlike Lombardi, a New Jersey native - is marked by a simple granite headstone that bears their names, life spans, and nothing else.

The plot in the peaceful but overcrowded burial ground just off Chapel Hill Road in this prosperous Monmouth County community is adjacent to one occupied by the legendary coach's parents, Henry and Matilda.

For those hoping to make a pilgrimage here, its exact location sounds like one of Lombardi's plays - Grave 4, Lot 375A, Section 30. Hike!

Even now, more than four decades after his death from colon cancer in 1970, the site is visited frequently and, as was the case this week, festooned with flowers, Packers pennants, and signs wishing Lombardi's former team well.

In fact, except for the infamous "Evil Clown of Middletown," whose frightening visage occupies a billboard along nearby Route 35, Lombardi's grave may be Middletown's greatest tourist attraction.

He was buried here on Sept. 7, 1970, not long after a Funeral Mass in Manhattan's St. Patrick Cathedral conducted by Cardinal Terence Cooke and attended by all sorts of football and New York City luminaries. Three days later, the NFL named the trophy it presents to Super Bowl winners in his honor.

Lombardi began building his coaching reputation 30-some miles away in Monmouth County, at St. Cecelia's High School, where he also taught chemistry.


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or at ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

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