Houston is the proud home of the Lombardi Award™, a prestigious college football award honoring the nation’s top college linemen. Presented by the Rotary Club of Houston for the last five decades, the 50th anniversary presentation on December 6 marks a significant milestone in the world of college football. While honoring the nation’s best linemen, all proceeds from the event benefit cancer research in keeping with the wishes of the Lombardi family.
The Lombardi Award™ is made from a 40-pound block of Texas pink granite, designed by famous local Western artist Mark Storm. The simple yet evocative design has come to symbolize excellence on the fields of college football, as well as the spirit, drive, and energy of legendary Coach Vince Lombardi. The award honors the memory of the celebrated figure who molded men into winners on the field and off and inspires many to support the fight against cancer through the nation’s best institutions including local partners: the American Cancer Society, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, and Texas Children’s Hospital Cancer Center. The award has also left an indelible mark on the lives of the player recipients over the last 50 years. Its importance transcends the realm of sports and touches on personal and professional development, as well as philanthropic endeavors. For finalists and former winners, it is a testament to their dedication, discipline, hard work, and skill as offensive and defensive linemen.
The Lombardi Award shines a bright spotlight on the city of Houston. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Vicki Brentin, Chair of the 50th Anniversary Lombardi Award and the Honorary Chair, Coach Jackie Sherrill, The Ohio State University Head Coach Ryan Day, as well as some of the award’s former recipients, including the oldest surviving winner, Walt Patulski, and Texas-born winners Dat Ngyuen and Brian Orakpo.
The award of course benefits cancer research in honor of Coach Lombardi. Can you talk a bit about the beneficiary organizations through the years and the specific work they are doing to combat cancer?
The Lombardi Award partner organizations have made substantial contributions to the field of cancer research. For this reason, the award presented by the Rotary Club of Houston is proud to recognize the Seven Blocks of Granite Champions for their contributions in advancing cancer research. These honorees from the American Cancer Society, M.D Anderson Cancer Center and Texas Children’s Cancer Center are truly rock stars changing the world and just a few examples of what makes us all Houston Proud.
- Vicki Brentin, 50th Anniversary Chair
Since this award is operated through the Rotary Club of Houston, it has had a lasting impact on our local community. Can you discuss some of the ways Houston is spotlighted through this event?
The Rotary Club of Houston is joined by all Houston area Rotary clubs in District 5890 to present the Lombardi Award as a platform to showcase Houston’s commitment to sports, philanthropy, and community engagement. It certainly highlights Houston’s role in the national sports landscape and destination for sports related events and activities. Some of the significant ways we promote Houston include the local and national media coverage of the award as well as our community engagement with key stakeholders and volunteers. The award’s charitable impact raising millions of dollars over the years resonates with the Houston community in the fight to cure cancer and improve the well-being of patients and their families. The Lombardi Award is proud to help shine a bright light on the city of Houston.
- Vicki Brentin
What do you think the next half century holds for the award?
The Lombardi Award is really focused on expanding its reach locally and nationally. We also want to remain dedicated to its philanthropic mission. We are excited to work with so many great partners like Houston First, the Houston Harris County Authority, the College Football Championship Committee, Lonestar Sports and Entertainment, the Texans and others as we all strive to promote Houston and make a positive impact on both the sports world and the fight against cancer. Moving forward we would love to involve more community and national leaders to expand our partnerships in showing that Houston is proud to own this event.
- Vicki Brentin
The Lombardi Award™ is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Can you talk about the importance of this award to many of the player recipients over the last half-century? How has it changed the path for some?
Every college coach I know covets having a winner of the Lombardi Award™. The Award has come to be associated with leadership, courage, desire, respect for authority and most of all discipline. I am very proud of coaching the 1980 winner Hugh Green. On a personal note, it is a highlight of my life and career to serve as the Honorary Chair for the 50th Anniversary of the Lombardi Award.
- Jackie Sherrill, Head Coach and Athletic Director
Take the indomitable fighting spirit of the great Vince Lombardi, symbolized fittingly in a 40-pound block of granite, certifying “you” as the nation’s best college lineman, and receiving this award from the person who soon would become the 41st President of the United States and leader of the free world, George Bush; and held in the largest domed facility on the planet at that time - The Houston Astrodome. If this doesn’t forge a determination to excel and do your very best in every endeavor in life, nothing will. What more can be said?
- Walt Patulski, Notre Dame – oldest surviving winner of Lombardi Award - 1971 recipient.
I love that Texas A & M is so proud of my having won this prestigious award that they showcase it for all to see in the Aggie Hall of Fame. I am incredibly proud of winning this coveted award. Of all the awards, Rotary Club of Houston absolutely was the best at making the finalists feel special. This award and Rotary influenced my own personal commitment to serving others and making a difference in my own community. It is one of the reasons as a former winner I joined the Lombardi Award committee.
- Dat Ngyuen, Texas A&M, 1998 Lombardi Award Recipient
Winning the Lombardi Award meant the world to myself, family, and The University of Texas. The Lombardi block of granite is the benchmark of all collegiate accolades which exemplifies excellence along with honorable character. Representing UT throughout my career I felt was always the goal, playing with so many great players and coaches. Winning the prestigious Lombardi Award™ while being the team leader at UT will forever be one of my most profound memories of my college career. Hook ‘em”
- Brian Orakpo, University of Texas. 2008 Lombardi Award Recipient
The Ohio State University is especially proud of its six Lombardi Award winners. Special congratulations to the only two-time winner and one of the greatest Buckeyes, Orlando Pace, during this 50th Anniversary year. Every head coach and his staff is proud to boast of having a player chosen to be a finalist and winner for this Award. It is an affirmation of all the hard work and discipline both on and off the field. I hope Orlando will be joined by many Houston area Buckeyes to celebrate this special milestone year.
- Ryan Day, Head Coach – The Ohio State University