Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing

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"Winning isn’t everything; it's the only thing" is a well-known quotation in sports. It is attributed to UCLA Bruins football coach Henry Russell ("Red") Sanders, who spoke two different versions of the quotation. In 1950, at a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo physical education workshop, Sanders told his group: "Men, I'll be honest. Winning isn't everything", then following a long pause, "Men, it's the only thing!"[1] In a three-part article, December 7, 1953, on Red Sanders, by Bud Furillo of the Los Angeles Herald and Express, the phrase is quoted in the sub head. Furillo said in his unpublished memoirs Sanders first made the statement to him after UCLA's loss to USC in 1949. The phrase is quoted in the 1953 film Trouble Along the Way by Sherry Jackson's character, Carol Williams. In 1955, in a Sports Illustrated article preceding the 1956 Rose Bowl, he was quoted as saying "Sure, winning isn't every thing; it's the only thing."[2]

The quotation is widely, but wrongly attributed to American football coach Vince Lombardi, who probably heard the phrase from UCLA coach Sanders.[3] Lombardi is on record using the quotation as early as 1959 in his opening talk on the first day of the Packers’ training camp.[3] The quotation captured the American public's attention during Lombardi's highly successful reign as coach of the Packers in the 1960s. Over time, the quotation took on a life of its own. The words graced the walls of locker rooms, ignited pre-game pep talks, and echoed from the rafters of banquet halls.[citation needed] According to the late James Michener's Sports in America, Lombardi claimed to have been misquoted. What he intended to say was "Winning isn't everything. The will to win is the only thing."[4] However, Lombardi is on record repeating the original version of the quotation on several occasions.[5]

This credo has served as counterpoint to the well known sentiment by sports journalist Grantland Rice that, "it's not that you won or lost but how you played the game", and to the modern Olympic creed expressed by its founder Pierre de Coubertin: "The most important thing. . . is not winning but taking part". While at UCLA, another famous quote was attributed to Sanders regarding the UCLA–USC rivalry, "Beating 'SC is not a matter of life or death, it's more important than that."[6][7]


  1. ^ Rosenbaum, Art – INDIANS FAR FROM BASHFUL AT CHOW, Los Angeles Times. Oct 18, 1950. p. C3 (1 page)
  2. ^ Sayre, Joe – He Flies On One Wing. Sports Illustrated, December 26, 1955. Quote: Not that he is philosophical about losing. "Sure, winning isn't every thing", he once declared. "It's the only thing."
  3. ^ a b Maraniss, David
  4. ^ Michener, James A.
  5. ^ Overman, Steven J.
  6. ^ The Start of Something Big: USC vs. UCLA by Lonnie White, marking 75 years of the UCLA–USC rivalry
  7. ^ Burke, Anne (Editor) – Summer 2004 Bruin Walk: Rah-rah Boo-hiss. UCLA Magazine, summer 2004


  • Maraniss, David – When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi. Simon & Schuster, 2000. (Chapter 21, "Winning Isn't Everything" and Chapter 22, "It's the Only Thing.")
  • Michener, James A – Sports in America. Fawcett Crest, 1987. ISBN 0-449-21450-8
  • Overman, Steven J. – "'Winning isn't Everything. It's the Only Thing': The Origin, Attributions and Influence of a Famous Football Quote," Football Studies. Volume 2 Issue 2 (October 1999). full text