Sonny Jurgensen also visited Lombardi regularly. The 1969 season had been the most memorable of the veteran quarterback's career, and he couldn't wait to get going under a coach who brought out the best in him. "One day he asked me who was leading the team when we did laps," Jurgensen said. "I told him it was me. He looked at me with that big grin and said, `Don't you lie to me, Jurgensen,' and we both started laughing. I was so much looking forward to playing for him again. That `69 season was the highlight of my career. It was so special, and now the next year we knew we were going to win and get better. He'd put it all in order to make it happen."
Lombardi had indeed put it all in order. He had turned the tide the previous year. He had begun to instill a fierce commitment to excellence. He had started the rebuilding of the team. He had, in short, pointed the way to the glory days ahead.
The 1970 college draft had helped, even if the Redskins previously had traded away their first-round and third-round choices. With his first choice in the second round, Lombardi had taken Bill Brundige, a brainy defensive tackle from Colorado, then added Paul Laaveg, a somewhat undersized offensive lineman from Iowa, Manny Sistrunk, another defensive tackle from obscure Arkansas AM&N, and Mack Alston, a tight end from Maryland State. All four would make significant contributions to the Redskins over the next few years.
But Lombardi would not see that or the results of everything else he had done.
That June, unable to shake what he thought was a stubborn case of the flu, he had visited team physician George Resta, who immediately sent him to Georgetown University Hospital for tests. It was announced initially that Lombardi was suffering from a stomach virus and would undergo a complete physical work-up. But on June 27, doctors performed exploratory surgery that uncovered what was first described as a benign tumor in his colon. Surgeons removed a section of the colon as a precautionary measure, and Lombardi remained in the hospital.
He did get out long enough to see his team play one more time. Still weak from the surgery, he was driven to Baltimore to watch a rookie scrimmage against the Colts in Memorial Stadium. Huff, who had agreed to stay on as an assistant coach, recalled Lombardi coming into the team's locker room before the scrimmage started.
"He looked very bad," Huff said. "He'd lost about 40 pounds, and you could barely hear him talk. But he gathered the team around him, and he directed his remarks at the players he drafted that spring.