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Looking after Lombardi

Looking after Lombardi

By Charles Benson. CREATED Nov 18, 2013 - UPDATED: Nov 19, 2013

MIDDLETOWN, NJ - The legend of Vince Lombardi still lives with Packers fans more than 40 years after his death.

It's also the motivation for an unlikely fan who has been taking care of Lombardi's grave for nearly three decades.
 
Vince Lombardi is buried a long way away from the town and team that made him famous.
 
"I don't think a lot of people know his grave is actually there," said Gary Martin. "He's buried like a common person." 
 
A common man with perhaps and uncommon caretaker. Lombardi's final resting place is Middletown, New Jersey. That's where you can find Gary Martin a couple of times a year.
 
He's a retired New Jersey police captain and - are you ready for this - a New York Jets fan!
 
"My father is the one who turned me on to Lombardi."
 
His father Warren was a World War II Veteran and he loved Lombardi.
 
"I always remember my father saying if he was surrounded by the enemy - he would choose Vince Lombardi because he would never surrender and that left a life long impression on me," said Martin.
 
Gary hasn't given up either. He has been the "unofficial" caretaker of Lombardi's grave for nearly 30 years.
 
"My father said that Vince Lombardi was more than a coach. He was a teacher," said Martin.
 
When asked if he has conversations with Lombardi, Gary responded: "Constantly, all the time."
 
The conversation is usually about Gary trying to recite Lombardi's famous quotes.
 
A few years ago Gary's yearly trips to Lombardi's gravesite became a  national news story and it brought him notoriety, which he wasn't seeking. 
 
But it also brought him to Lambeau Field thanks to another man who shares a passion for Lombardi.
 
Gary is now buddies with John O'Neill the Packers fan who dresses as Saint Vince. Two years ago, with Saint Vince's help, Gary met Lombardi's daughter Susan.    
 
"I was very nice meeting her. I wish my dad could have met her. I wish my father could have met Lombardi."
 
It didn't happen in life but Gary's memory of his father and his father's love for  Lombardi all come together at this special place a few times a year.   
 
"I think of my father constantly at the grave- my father loved the guy. I would say my father worshiped him."
 
When Vince Lombardi's daughter Susan was asked about Gary's work at the gravesite she summed it up in three words. "He's a saint."
Charles Benson

Charles Benson

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Charles Benson is one of the most reliable, trusted and experienced reporters in southeast Wisconsin. If there's a big story going on, Charles is usually there leading the way.