Friday, 22 October 2010 00:00
More than a year ago, I was intrigued after learning some major Broadway talents were joining forces to adapt into a play David Maraniss’ When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi (Simon & Schuster, 2000).
The book is one of the best biographies I’ve ever read but I thought Maraniss’ in-depth look at the National Football League legend posed considerable challenges for a playwright and director. How can you capture Lombardi’s (1913-1970) intensity in a way that’s accessible to the non-football fan, or illustrate the extent to which the Packers’ players, especially running back Paul Hornung, were Lombardi’s true family? Playwright Eric Simonson and director Thomas Kail (In the Heights) pulled it off in an incredibly creative fashion, thanks to excellent performances, too. I saw a recent preview performance, and Lombardi the play is officially opensing at the Circle in the Square Theatre, 50th Street, Manhattan, on Thursday, Oct. 21.
The story is set primarily in November 1965, and Lombardi (Lindenhurst native Dan Lauria), the Packers’ head coach, has already converted an underperforming Green Bay squad into a winning team after spending years as a respected assistant coach for the New York Giants. The narrative revolves around magazine writer Michael McCormick’s (Keith Nobbs) visit to Green Bay to chronicle how Lombardi turned things around, and whether the Packers have what it takes to return to the playoffs. Marie Lombardi (Judith Light), Lombardi’s wife and the mother of their two children, provides extensive source material to McCormick about her husband’s life before they arrived in Green Bay.
In keeping with one of the book’s themes—Lombardi’s single-minded focus on football made it difficult for anything else to enter his life—three real-life Packer players are woven into the script, although Lombardi’s actual offspring (he and Marie had a son and a daughter) are never seen and barely mentioned. There were, however, a number of other passions which drove Lombardi, such as his Catholic faith and a fervent belief that people could improve themselves in all walks of life, if they only had the right coach to guide them.
One of my vivid memories of the book were Maraniss’ interviews with retired Packers, reflecting on their NFL experiences long after their playing days were over, speculating on how good some of their most-talented rivals could have been, if only Lombardi were pushing them harder to excel.
Lombardi, a Fordham University graduate, played offensive line in the 1930s as part of the Bronx school’s famed Seven Blocks of Granite so casting Lauria in the feature role was an inspired call. Lauria, best known as the father in the award-winning ABC television series The Wonder Years, began acting while attending Southern Connecticut State University on a football scholarship. Light (TV’s Who’s the Boss?), who has won two Tony Awards, does a terrific job as Mrs. Lombardi, who Maraniss encountered after her husband’s death, and was lost without him.
But for 90 minutes on Broadway, the Lombardis are back together, and their imagined reunion makes for a very entertaining evening. For additional information, log onto
Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net