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Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.

NUMBER: 1990
AUTHOR: Henry R. (“Red”) Sanders (1905–58)
QUOTATION: Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
ATTRIBUTION: RED SANDERS, Vanderbilt University football coach, c. 1948.—Leo Green, Sportswit, p. 57 (1984). Verified by Scoop Hudgins, Vanderbilt’s sports information director 1946–1948, and Fred Russell, retired sports editor of the Nashville, Tennessee, Banner and a friend of Sanders’s, who quoted this phrase in his columns at the time.

This remark has been widely attributed to football coach Vince Lombardi. In Vince Lombardi on Football, ed. George L. Flynn, vol. 1, chapter 1, p. 16 (1973), Lombardi is quoted, “I have been quoted as saying, ‘Winning is the only thing.’ That’s a little out of context. What I said is that ‘Winning is not everything—but making the effort to win is.’”

Not everyone agrees. Time, September 14, 1970, p. 61, attributed this remark to Lombardi and called it his creed. Bob Rubin, Green Bay’s Packers, p. 84 (1973), quotes this from Lombardi’s opening talk on the first day of training camp in 1959.