The Rotary Lombardi Award is hosted by the Rotary Club of Houston and benefits the American Cancer Society, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Children's Cancer Hospital, and Texas Children's Hospital Cancer and Hematology Center.
The Award was initiated by the Rotary Club in 1970 shortly after the death of Vince Lombardi to cancer.
The Rotary Lombardi Award goes annually to a college football player who demonstrates outstanding performance and skill in offensive or defensive positions and best exemplifies the discipline, virtue and wisdom that defined Vincent Lombardi's exceptional brand of leadership. As the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, Lombardi first made a name for himself as the smallest but toughest member of Fordham University's "Seven Blocks of Granite," renowned in their day (1934-37) for being the most unyielding line in college football.
Appropriately, the trophy is a 40-pound block of granite atop a silver pedestal built over a foundation of discipline. The symbolic design was created by Houston Rotarian and professional artist, the late Mark Storm.
A distinguished committee of nearly 400 of America’s most prominent college football coaches, football writers, sports broadcasters and previous Rotary Lombardi Award winners and finalists, participate in a three-tiered balloting process. Each year the selection committee selects twenty semifinalists, four finalists and the ultimate winner in balloting conducted by the accounting firm of KPMG.
All four finalists, their coaches and sports information directors are brought to Houston for one day of hospital visits, media interviews and local hospitality. The climax of the trip is the annual Rotary Lombardi Award Presentation, when a crowd of up to 1,000 college football fans gathers to hear the announcement of the winner prior to its release to the national media.
The Rotary Lombardi Award program was approved by the Rotary Club of Houston in 1970 shortly after the death of Vince Lombardi. Thanks to the graciousness of Mrs. Vince Lombardi, the Club was authorized to establish the Award in Coach Lombardi’s memory.
Working on a short timeline, the original committee conceived, organized and executed the first Rotary Lombardi Dinner in a matter of months. The committee outlined the criteria for eligibility for the award, which has evolved over time. In 2016, the committee made a major adjustment to the award, expanding it from lineman positions to any outstanding player on the field that also exhibits great leadership skills.
Ohio State nose guard Jim Stillwagon was named the first winner by a selection committee of 75, including current head coaches, members of the media, and former Packer stars Jerry Kramer and Willie Davis. Vice President Spiro Agnew was the main speaker at the event, which was held at the AstroWorld Hotel.
Vice President Agnew was the first of a number of notables to attend Rotary Lombardi Dinners. Future Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan have also attended past dinners, as did Hollywood legend Bob Hope. President Gerald Ford served as honorary chairman of the event in 1976 and presented the trophy that year to Wilson Whitley of the University of Houston.