Vince Lombardi: Winning is the Only Thing

Buzzkilling isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. That’s the motivational quote that keeps my eyes on the prize, Buzzkillers. How about that? Two cliches within the first minute! That’s the kind of winning attitude that’s made me the best historian on the interwebs!

It also reminds me of the legendary American football coach, Vince Lombardi, who was fond of telling his players the following. “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” He employed it many times to motivate them, as well having it posted all around the locker room. And he’s usually the person who gets credit for the quote. Indeed, Lombardi liked motivational quotations and sayings, including this one. But was he the first person to say it?

No, Buzzkillers, he wasn’t. But Lombardi never claimed to have been the originator. Henry Russell “Red” Sanders, UCLA’s famous head football coach in the late 1940s and early 1950s, was the author. While addressing a physical education class in 1950, Sanders said: “”Men, I’ll be honest. Winning isn’t everything.” Then he paused for effect. “Men,” he said, “it’s the only thing!” The phrase was memorable enough for a Los Angeles reporter to write it down and use it in a feature article on Sanders a couple of years later.

From there, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” made its way into the script for a Hollywood movie, Trouble Along the Way (1953), starring John Wayne as a college football coach. And then Sports Illustrated quoted Red Sanders as saying it to his players before the start of the 1956 Rose Bowl. And after that, to employ another cliche, the quote was off to the races.

While we’re at it, Buzzkillers, let’s credit Coach Sanders with another classic sports motivational quote. In order to convey the gravity of beating their big rival, the University of Southern California (USC), Sanders told his players: “Beating ‘SC is not a matter of life or death, it’s more important than that.”

That’s what we think about Buzzkilling history myths here at the Institute. It’s more important than life or death.

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