The 'best years of my life'
His starting left cornerback, Hank Gremminger, had gotten hurt in the second quarter of the Green Bay Packers' annual Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit on Nov. 23, 1961.
At halftime, Lombardi scanned the locker room. His eyes settled on Herb Adderley, a rookie running back from Michigan State. Stuck behind a couple of guys named Hornung and Taylor, Adderley hadn't played a single down from scrimmage in the first 10 games of the season.
He'd never taken a snap at cornerback, even in practice.
"We're going to have to put our best athlete at left corner," Lombardi announced to the players seconds before they took the field for the second half.
The third-year coach walked over to Adderley and put his hand on the young player's shoulder.
"Herb, do the best you can," Lombardi said, then turned and walked away.
"I said, 'Who? Me?' " Adderley recalls with a chuckle. "I was in a state of shock. I was shaking and nervous. I had no time to ask anybody any questions. We went out on the field and played."
So began the career of one of the greatest cornerbacks in NFL history.
"I didn't know what I was doing," he says. "I was playing so deep they could have run hitches in front of me all day."
Still, Adderley made a game-changing play. The first of his 48 career interceptions, off Lions quarterback Jim Ninowski in the fourth quarter, set up a game-clinching touchdown run by Paul Hornung in a 17-9 victory.
Five weeks later, the Packers won the first of their five NFL titles under Lombardi.
Adderley played on all five of those teams and then, after Phil Bengtson traded him to Dallas, helped the Cowboys to victory in Super Bowl VI. He is one of three players in NFL history to have played on six championship teams and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980.
"So many great players like Gale Sayers, Deacon Jones, Sonny Jurgensen, Fran Tarkenton - those are a few that come to mind - never won one title," Adderley says. "When I think about that it's mind-blowing."
Now 73, Adderley is returning to Green Bay for the first time in 12 years to make appearances and sign copies of his book, "Lombardi's Left Side," written with Packers teammate Dave Robinson and Royce Boyles; comedian Bill Cosby, who grew up with Adderley in Philadelphia, wrote the foreword.
The schedule includes a signing from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Packers Hall of Fame (tickets are required) and another from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Packers Pro Shop at Lambeau Field.
He'll also be introduced before the game against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 2 and is looking forward to seeing the stadium renovations.
"People who have been there say, 'You should see all the changes with the atrium' and this and that," Adderley says. "I don't know until I get there and see for myself."
It seems a new book on Lombardi comes out every year and by now every possible story about the Glory Years has been told and retold.
But Adderley points out that few books have been written by defensive players on those great teams and even fewer from the perspective of an African-American living in lily-white Green Bay in the early 1960s.
"A lot of guys have done books about Lombardi and the Packers," Adderley says. "But none of them came from a black perspective. This was a chance for me to talk about not only what a great coach Lombardi was, but what a great human being he was."
In the early '60s, Adderley says, the black players on the team couldn't find apartments in Green Bay. Nobody would rent to them. He lived with Willie Davis and Elijah Pitts in a "shack" on the outskirts of town owned by the brother of Packers Hall of Famer Tony Canadeo.
"Part of the building was an exterminating business," Adderley says. "The other half was fixed up as a one-bedroom apartment. Willie Davis was the oldest so he had the bedroom. Pitts and I had to flip a coin to see who would sleep on the sofa and the loser had to sleep on an army cot."
Lombardi approached team President Dominic Olejniczak and demanded that the African-American players be put up in suitable apartments in Green Bay.
"Lombardi felt like he was discriminated against himself (as an Italian-American) and we knew that, or at least the black players did," Adderley says. "His tolerance for racism was zero.
"He said, 'Look, if the black players are going to help this team win the city needs to understand that these players need good places to live and they need to live in the city.' He slowly integrated us into the city.
"The players today don't know what we went through."
In 1961, the Packers played the Washington Redskins in a preseason game in Columbus, Ga. The Redskins were the last NFL team to have an all-white roster, and the game was played in the heart of the south.
"We stayed on an Army base in Fort Benning, Ga.," Adderley says. "Lombardi said, 'I'd rather be here with all my players than be split up somewhere else.' "
The next year, the Packers faced the Redskins in a preseason game in Jacksonville, Fla. Adderley says the black players weren't allowed to stay at the team hotel.
"Lombardi called (NFL Commissioner) Pete Rozelle and said he would never play the Redskins down in the south again," he says. "You know where we played the next year? Cedar Rapids, Iowa."
While his praise of Lombardi is glowing, Adderley is harsh on another iconic coach: Dallas' Tom Landry.
In "Lombardi's Left Side," Adderley doesn't hold back in his criticism of Landry, whom he characterizes as a petty autocrat and a closet racist.
The Cowboys' locker room was divided along racial lines, Adderley says, and Landry implicitly encouraged the divisiveness by doing nothing about it and maintaining a "quota" of black players on the roster.
Furthermore, Landry was angry that general manager Tex Schramm had gone over his head in acquiring Adderley from the Packers.
Landry didn't want any ex-Packers on his team - and especially not a flashy, African-American ex-Packer.
The square-jawed coach couldn't stomach Adderley's free-wheeling style of playing cornerback - though it had made him one of the top players in the game - and once called him out in front of the team in a film session for guessing correctly and knocking down a would-be touchdown pass.
"You mean I'm supposed to let the guy run past me and catch a touchdown pass?" Adderley said, challenging his coach.
"Yes, if that's what your keys tell you to do," Landry answered.
"No, I don't play that way," Adderley shot back.
Nine games into the '72 season, Landry benched Adderley, though the Cowboys were 6-2. They lost two of their last four games and then lost to the Redskins, 26-3, in the NFC Championship Game.
"His coaching decisions had a lot to do with the Cowboys losing big games," Adderley says. "He humiliated me in front of the whole team for his personal reasons. It was like he had a vendetta against me."
Adderley consulted with two judges before including the chapters on Landry in "Lombardi's Left Side" to be sure he couldn't be sued for libel by the late coach's heirs.
"They both told me in Law School 101 you learn that the best defense against a libel suit or defamation of character suit is the absolute truth," he says. "If you do it with the absolute truth there's nothing wrong with what you have to say."
Adderley is looking forward to his first trip back to Green Bay in more than a decade. He no longer flies because back fusion surgery a few years ago makes air travel uncomfortable. Instead, he'll rent an RV and drive from his home in New Jersey.
He was supposed to be in Green Bay for the Nov. 4 game against Arizona, but superstorm Sandy forced him to reschedule.