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The Vince Lombardi Trophy

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It might be said that the biggest prize in American sports is the Vince Lombardi Trophy.  Thanks to the surging popularity of gridiron football over the last two decades, the game has replaced baseball as the pastime most fans follow closest. The silver football glistens under the bright lights of the Super Bowl, calling competitors like the siren song of victory only can.  At the end of every “Big Game,” from the first one in 1967 until today, the creation of Tiffany & Co. has been lifted by the winning owner and passed around locker rooms by thousands of tired, broken down men who have reached the pinnacle of a physically demanding season.

History

After years of competing for the best players and the attention of fans, the National Football League and American Football League agreed to unite for a championship game beginning in early 1967.  During a lunch meeting just a few weeks before the game, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle heard a proposal from Oscar Riedner, the then-Vice President of Tiffany & Co., about the possibility of creating a trophy for the winners.  Sketching out a rough idea on a cocktail napkin, he secured permission to craft the sterling silver prize in the company’s Parsippany, New Jersey location – the same place it is made by hand every year, to this day.

The design, featuring a regulation-size football on top of an elongated stand loosely resembling a kickoff tee, is famous for its simplicity.  Initially, the words “World Professional Football Championship” were engraved on the front, giving the trophy its name by default for four seasons. (In some circles, it was referred to as the “Tiffany Trophy” after the manufacturer, too.)  After the unexpected death of former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi in 1970, the trophy received its current name in time for the 1971 Super Bowl between the Baltimore Colts and Dallas Cowboys.  At the end of a tight 16-13 contest, the Colts were the first to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy and commemorate the legacy of the two-time Super Bowl champion coach.

The Colts’ victory was also the first time the merged league produced a trophy with its new logo on it, substituting the classic NFL shield for the symbols of the old organizations.  This look remained intact from Super Bowls V to XLII, a 37-year streak without a single change, until an updated NFL logo was added to the trophy in time for Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.  With a victory in 2011, the Green Bay Packers became the only team to own the trophy in its three slightly different incarnations having won Super Bowls I, II, XXXI and XLV.

Best Teams

Green Bay Packers (1967-68)

Led by Vince Lombardi, the trophy went home with one of the toughest squads to ever play the game during two seasons in a row. Physically imposing on defense and hard to slow down on offense – despite their famous “sweep right” play being a key part of the game plan – Lombardi’s team was able to overcome the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders thanks to the play of legendary quarterback Bart Starr and the hard-hitting Ray Nitschke.

Miami Dolphins (1972-73)

There is one achievement every team has a shot at each season, but only this group has done it: an undefeated championship campaign.  Head coach Don Shula managed to pull the pieces together to produce back-to-back victories behind the speedy Mercury Morris catching passes from Bob Griese – when Larry Csonka wasn’t running over opposing defenders, that is.  Having won a first title in 1972, the team managed to overcome the Washington Redskins to complete the perfect season the following year.

San Francisco 49ers (1989-90)

As the NFL’s popularity exploded during the 1980s, there was one team that seemed to harness the spotlight better than any other.  After a come-from-behind victory in 1982 and a second title in 1985, the Niners closed out the decade with consecutive triumphs behind the stellar play of Joe Montana under center and Jerry Rice at wide receiver.  Sweeping through opposing teams using coach Bill Walsh’s “West Coast Offense,” the pass-happy skill players overshadowed a physical defense highlighted by punishing free safety Ronnie Lott.

Dallas Cowboys (1993-96)

Known as “The Triplets,” quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin dominated the league in the mid-1990s, winning three of four Vince Lombardi Trophies.  Known for disciplined defense and smooth execution when in possession, only a loss in the 1995 NFC Championship game (to eventual Super Bowl winners the San Francisco 49ers) kept them from being the only team to claim three straight victories in the NFL’s Big Game.

New England Patriots (2002-05)

No team in the modern era has been able to get players to buy into its system quite like the Patriots in the early 2000s.  After the loss of starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe during the 2001 season, young back-up Tom Brady came in to lead the squad to its first triumph – and two in a row a couple of seasons later.  Though the period would eventually be tainted thanks to a “Spygate” controversy claiming the team snuck video cameras into opposing practices, there can be little doubt about the product on the field being one of the most explosive in memory.

Winners

Pittsburgh Steelers (6; 1975-76, 1979-80, 2006, 2009)

Dallas Cowboys (5; 1972, 1978, 1993-94, 1996)

San Francisco 49ers (5; 1982, 1985, 1989-90, 1995)

New York Giants (4; 1987, 1991, 2008, 2012)

Green Bay Packers (4; 1967-68, 1997, 2011)

New England Patriots (3; 2002, 2004-05)

Washington Redskins (3; 1983, 1988, 1992)

Oakland Raiders (3; 1977, 1981, 1984 {as Los Angeles})

Indianapolis Colts (2; 1971 {as Baltimore}, 2007)

Denver Broncos (2; 1998-99)

Miami Dolphins (2; 1973-74)

New Orleans Saints (1; 2010)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1; 2003)

Baltimore Ravens (1; 2001)

St. Louis Rams (1; 2000)

Chicago Bears (1; 1986)

Kansas City Chiefs (1; 1970)

New York Jets (1969)

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