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Vince Lombardi — Brooklyn native — is a forgotten hero in his borough

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The Jets are out of the running, but Brooklynites could still enjoy a piece of Super Bowl glory — that is, if they weren’t too busy stepping on it.

A tribute to Brooklyn native Vince Lombardi — inarguably the borough’s greatest football claim to fame — was hidden under a layer of snow in an unmarked Sheepshead Bay traffic triangle on Monday, a forgotten spot to an apparently forgotten hero.

“I’ve never seen the plaque. I’ve never even heard about it,” said Brian Feldman, 34, a resident and mailman in Sheepshead Bay.

The now-defunct Sheepshead Bay Chamber of Commerce installed the plaque near the corner of Jerome Avenue and E. 17th Street in 1974, four years after the coach’s untimely death at age 57, to link the one-time fishing village to its native son. Lombardi’s reach in the borough later extended to St. Francis Preparatory, then in Williamsburg, where he played his high school ball. He went on to achieve lasting fame as the coach of the Green Bay Packers dynasty in the 1960s, which won five NFL championships and two Super Bowls — and gave Green Bay the nickname “Titletown.”

Yet with the Packers gearing up for the Super Bowl on Feb. 6, no one seemed to care that a traffic triangle in Southern Brooklyn provided a blast from the past, linking legendary moments such as the Ice Bowl of 1967 to next week’s big game.

“It’s a shame it’s on the floor,” said John Russo, 50, of Staten Island who grew up in Sheepshead Bay. “No one can see it.”

Lynn Stewart, 61, agrees that the placement is the issue: “People never look down,” she said.

Stewart is a big a fan of Lombardi — and regularly visits the Vince Lombardi rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike — yet she admitted that she had never even seen the tribute right in her neighborhood.

It didn’t have to be that way, of course. The original design for the memorial called for a corresponding street sign at the triangle, according to Lou Powsner, 90, a Bensonhurst-Sheepshead Bay legend who was present at the 1974 unveiling.

The street sign was never installed, but now residents, perhaps living up to Vince Lombardi’s constant demand for victory at all costs, are resurrecting the idea.

“A street sign would bring attention to the plaque,” said Steve Barrison, president of the Bay Improvement Group, which is heading up the effort.

“It’s a plus for the neighborhood and for tourism,” he added. “It says, ‘Yes, the Jets lost, but we still have Vince Lombardi Square.’ ”

Point of information: the square is actually not named for Lombardi, but for World War I veteran and former Sheepshead Bay resident Bill Brown, who also has a nearby park named for him.

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Reader Feedback

Ace from New Utrecht says:
I think Lombardi does have a spot in the walk of fame in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden but Joe Paterno another Brooklyn native does not.
Jan. 25, 2011, 11:05 am
Professional Football Enthusiast from Williamsburg says:
Wow, before reading this article I never even knew there was a plaque honoring Vincent in this Sheepshead Bay traffic triangle!! If only Lou Powsner's vision for a corresponding street sign had been realized, perhaps I would not have walked by it all these years as if blind. Journalism like this - creative, crisp, courageous - does noble work to uncover my borough's rich and proud history.
Jan. 26, 2011, 3:42 pm

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