Lombardi-Janesville letter surfaces

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Sunday, December 5, 2010
— A Janesville man has unearthed a letter that links the Green Bay Packers to Janesville.

It’s signed by Vince Lombardi.

Lombardi, of course, was the coach without whom the Packers’ glory years of the 1960s would not have happened. The Super Bowl trophy is named for him. His ethic of get-it-done hard work is legend.

Lombardi retired as coach in 1967 but stayed on as general manager. He left in 1969 to become part owner and head coach of the Washington Redskins,

Packers aficionados know Lombardi’s last public appearance in Wisconsin was at Janesville’s old Marshall Middle School.

A few know that the reason he came here was a friendship with one Robert Rhodes, then the managing editor of The Janesville Daily Gazette.

The Gazette was hosting a speakers series, and Rhodes had invited Lombardi to speak.

The letter is Lombardi’s acceptance of the invitation, on a date to be determined.

Dave Krapf of Janesville brought the letter to light last week.

Krapf, a Packers fan and memorabilia collector, recently received a computer alert about a letter being sold online from an estate in Pennsylvania.

He was excited to see a letter signed by Lombardi.

“I about fell out of my chair when I saw ‘Janesville Gazette,’” Krapf said.

He bought it.

Lombardi wrote that he was “flattered to be asked. …

“I would be pleased to come if only to see you and Shirl, but also in the hope of seeing Willard and Helen again,” Lombardi said in the closing of his letter to Rhodes.

Shirley was Rhodes’ wife. Krapf said Willard’s and Helen’s last name was Austin.

Krapf plans to auction the letter Monday as part of the RotaryFest 2010 at the Pontiac Convention Center. He would not say how much he paid for it, but he said Lombardi autographs can sell for well over $2,000.

A veteran of the Gulf War, Krapf plans to cover his cost and donate the profit to Unmet Needs, a program that gives grants to military members and their families who run into unexpected financial difficulties.

“To me, there is nothing more disgusting or humiliating than a loved one overseas serving, and their loved ones back in the States are getting evicted or can’t put food on the table,” Krapf said.

Rhodes introduced Lombardi’s speech on Feb. 25, 1969. That same evening, Lombardi left Wisconsin for Washington by plane from the Rock County Airport.

Lombardi went on to coach the Redskins to their first winning season in 15 years. Then in June 1970, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He died 10 weeks later at the age of 57.

Last updated: 3:54 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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