One of country's largest Vince Lombardi collections lives in southwest Ohio

Oct. 10—BEAVERCREEK — Jerry Kramer, the Pro Football Hall of Fame guard, wrote a personal note and diagramed two famous Green Bay Packer plays on a cheese gold helmet, and gave it to him.

The late cornerback Herb Adderley, another Packer Pro Football Hall of Famer, penned a note that began "To my friend Coach G" on an oversized photo that showed him at his locker— still in his padded football pants — with smiling head coach Vince Lombardi after the famed Ice Bowl game.

But of the more than 1,000 items in Jack Giambrone's extensive collection of all things Lombardi, none is more moving than the letter that came to his Beavercreek home simply addressed to "Coach G." It was accompanied by a small mass card given out at Catholic funerals and the two items together told a wonderful story.

Diane Clemons wrote how, in 1970, she was just 16 and had been in a bad auto accident that cost her three fingers. She said she had been feeling "beat up" and "depressed" and friends began to take her along with them when they went out.

That's how she ended up accompanying a boy on a brief stop at a funeral home.

Inside, she looked around and thought: "Wow! These are some really big guys!"

She soon realized this was the wake of Vince Lombardi, the Hall of Fame coach whose glory came at Green Bay and who now had been reviving the Washington Redskins when he died suddenly at age 57.

She knelt at the casket, said a prayer and took one of the mass cards home with her. She put it in the bible her grandmother had given her and forgot about it for decades.

When she heard about Giambrone's collection, she sent him the card and wrote:

"I thought somebody else would appreciate this a little more than I do. I feel it's found a home with someone who will not keep it shut up in a bible where no one can see it."

She was right.

The card and her letter have a special home with Giambrone, the Sinclair Community College physical education professor and former athletics director and a college and pro football coach.

With over 700 Lombardi-linked items and 300 photos — from Lombardi's days as a young altar boy at St. Mark's church in Brooklyn to his playing days as one of the Seven Blocks of Granite on the Fordham offensive line to that sideline confab in the minus 20 degree cold he had with quarterback Bart Starr and Zeke Bratkowski in the final seconds of the famed 1967 Ice Bowl — Giambrone has one of the largest Lombardi collections in the world.

According to both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Packers Hall of Fame — both of which are exhibiting items on loan from Giambrone — it is one of the most significant.

The collection is on display in Jack and wife Vicki's Beavercreek home, but he also takes portions of it to functions around the Miami Valley so people can learn about the coaching legend and how his lessons still resonate — in and outside of sports — today.

Giambrone also travels around the Midwest giving presentations as a Lombardi Legend ambassador.

Lombardi actually has several ties to Dayton.

Early in his career, he became an assistant to Army head coach Earl "Red" Blaik, who graduated from Dayton's Steele High School and then played and coached at Miami University.

Blaik also had spent two years in the U.S. Cavalry and Lombardi took that military discipline and mixed it with his own spiritual underpinnings to form his own coaching persona.

Joe Lombardi, Vince's grandson and now the offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers, began his career as a Dayton Flyers assistant in the mid-1990s.

And Vince Lombardi's final public appearance was in Dayton on June 22, 1970.

"He was already in poor health when he got here, but he wasn't yet diagnosed," Giambrone said of Lombardi's aggressive colon cancer. "He ate at Anticolis the night before and began having real digestive problems.

"But that Monday morning he went to his speech and was on. He got a standing ovation. But he got bad on the flight home and they took him straight to Georgetown University Hospital. Doctors knew it was not good."

Lombardi had his first surgery five days after speaking in Dayton and he had another a month later.

His death on Sept. 3 shocked many people.

Giambrone reached for an Associated Press photo that captured the exact moment the stunned Washington players, gathered together on the field, were told of their coach's death.

Lombardi's deepest connection to the Dayton area is through Giambrone, who said: "He's been gone 51 years and I need to continue to make him relevant."

As the last few days have shown, he's doing a masterful job of that.

On the afternoon I visited, he'd just gotten a call from Carroll High School wanting to bring the football team over to see the exhibit and hear some stories.

He did the same with Alter a year ago.

"They might not know about Lombardi when they come here — nothing more than his name is on the Super Bowl trophy — but they'll know about him when they leave," Giambrone said. "They see his lessons about commitment, family and team resonate today. They are a blueprint for success." Recently, Governor Mike DeWine toured the exhibit and Friday Giambrone was taking five more items to Canton for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Today, the Packer Hall of Fame had planned to provide Giambrone with two tickets so he could take his grandson, Ryker — who turned 8 today — to see Green Bay's game with the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.

But those plans changed when Giambrone opted to go to his grandson's flag football game.

"That's a little more important," Giambrone said.

Besides, Ryker is a Kansas City Chiefs fan.

'This is gold'

Giambrone grew up in a blue collar family in Rochester, New York, and got his undergrad degree at UD and masters at Ohio State.

In the late 1980s, he was working as a manufacturing manager for a company that made large electrical components. Although he and Vicki had a young daughter, he wanted to coach and once told me he quit his $50,000-a-year job to work as an Eastern Kentucky University assistant making $3,800 a season.

He later coached at Wilmington, Wittenberg and in the World League. He launched the sports and recreation management program at Sinclair 15 years ago.

As a young coach he said he read a book on Lombardi and found himself drawn to him:

"I realized we had so many things in common. We both grew up East Coast New York kids.We were each the oldest in a family of five and came from Italian-American immigrant families. And we were both Jesuit-educated. "Around 1990, when eBay took off, I typed 'Vince Lombardi' into a search and all of a sudden different things popped up.

"There was a (cancelled) check he'd signed (made out for $283.55 to the People's Travel Bureau) in May of 1959. It was one of the first checks he wrote when he joined the Packers and I thought, 'That would be kinda cool to have.'

"I bought it for 135 bucks and when I got it, I thought, 'Oh my God! This is gold!'

"I displayed it on my desk so every day I looked at it and I tried to make a relationship with him. I thought, 'I've got to do well. Coach is right there lookin' at me.'

"When I'd speak anywhere, I'd take the check along and it got tremendous response. So I bought a second thing and then things really started to snowball."

As they did, he learned more and more about Lombardi.

He learned how he took a moribund Packers team that had gone 1-10-1 and — in just one season, serving as coach and general manger — he'd lifted them to a 7-5 mark, won NFL Coach of the Year honors and won back a disgruntled fan base who sold out every game in the 1960 season and ever since.

His team won five NFL titles in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls. And when he took over the lowly Washington Redskins in 1969, he led them to a 7-5 season, their first winning record in 14 years.

When Giambrone talks about Lombardi, he explores all sides of the man. Lombardi had some failings — he had a temper and could be aloof — but he also could show kindness.

Part of Giambrone's collection includes the tea sets he gave to players' wives and the cuff links and money clips he gave to players.

He was also committed to social justice.

"He went through discrimination because he was Italian American," Giambrone said. "When he was an assistant with the New York Giants, he once asked an administrator there about not being hired as a head coach in the league and was told 'Vinny, to be honest, you'll never get a job in the NFL because your name ends in a vowel.'"

When Lombardi joined the Packers, they had one black player. By 1967, they had 13, including five All Pros.

He told the team prejudice would not be tolerated. He insisted Green Bay eateries accept all his players and when the team was on the road, he made sure the hotel accommodated all his players. He became the first NFL coach not to decide roommates on the road by race.

When Lionel Aldridge, who was black, began to date Vicky Wankier, who was white and soon became his wife, interracial couples often were not accepted many places and Giambrone said league officials pressed Lombardi to suspend Aldridge.

Instead, Lombardi clapped back, Giambrone said: "He told them, 'You will not tell me what to do with my players!' And that was the end of it."

Lombardi's brother was gay and the coach was supportive of gay people associated with football and said anyone who showed prejudice would be replaced.

'What Would Lombardi Do?'

"When my wife tells me to go to my room, this is where I go," Giambrone said with a laugh as he led the way into his office.

It serves as an ante room to the main Lombardi display in the basement.

The office walls are covered with Lombardi portraits and a cabinet is filled with Lombardi curios.

The David Maraniss book, "When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi," ­­was on Giambrone's desk

"This stays here at all times," he said. "I want to be the expert in the country, so I can always answer the question 'What Would Lombardi Do?' WWLD? That's the principle I live by."

With that, he led the way to the basement where you're immediately overwhelmed by two rooms of Lombardi things, floor to ceiling. They hang on the walls, line bookcases and fill tables.

You see everything from a letter jacket from St. Cecilia's, Lombardi's first coaching job, to a Super Bowl I ball autographed by all the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs.

There's a photo of Lombardi sitting next to two black men at the lunch counter of Sneezer's Snack Shop in Green Bay.

There's a copy of the 30-minute training film — "Second Effort" — that companies used to teach Lombardi success techniques to their salesman. There also were flash cards the salesmen could take with them on the road to review.

As you toured the display, Giambrone told you how Lombardi initially studied to be a priest and how presidential hopeful Richard Nixon — recognizing Lombardi as one of the greatest coaches and leaders in American sports history — had the idea of making him his running mate.

Then he found out Lombardi was a Kennedy Democrat.

You saw a recipe for Vince Lombardi's Broiled Ham Steak and then there was the Nestles Quick Chocolate Flavor container with the offer to "Win a free trip for 2″ and "Join Coach Vince Lombardi at his football training camp."

That offer was good, but Giambrone's is better.

Instead of spending a few hours at Lombardi's camp, he offers you a chance to immerse yourself in every aspect on Lombardi's entire life.

Like Diane Clemons once wrote, for all things Lombardi, this is "a home."