Early on in Lombardi, the Eric Simonson-penned, NFL-produced play based on the legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, the title character exclaims that the game he's in is "a tough business, we gotta produce!" and it can be said that he's discussing professional football or Broadway. Both are cutthroat, live, constantly demanding businesses that demand achievement, or you could be pulled at any moment. Lombardi needed the same things to succeed on the football field that Lombardi needs to be a big-time hit on Broadway: preparation, talent, and execution.
In these aspects, and in almost all, Lombardi is a massive success. Based on the book When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss, it is a winning, real, human drama that avoids spouting cliche after cliche of the coach's great, oft-quoted sayings (many of which were listed in the halls of the Circle on the Square Theatre, which had me wary) in exchange for a portrait of a man struggling to balance his two loves, the pigskin, and his caring but frustrated wife, Marie. It's all seen through the eyes of an excitable, nerdy reporter named Mike McCormick. This isn't exactly "S**t My Coach Says."
While Vince Lombardi is more famous and beloved among American coaches than Herb Brooks or Red Auerbach or Tommy Lasorda, we seem to have heard more about them from filmmakers and writers in recent years. There hasn't been much, as Lombardi in the show calls it "myth making", of him in recent years. This seems the perfect time, with HBO and ESPN both planning films based on Lombardi between now and 2012, to start reintroducing him to both his loyal fans, and a younger generation like mine, that never saw the man coach and only knows him based on the Super Bowl trophy that bears his name. So good on the NFL, and John Mara, for keeping the greatest coach of all time for turning into, say, Lord Stanley or whoever the MLB trophy is named after.
That said, make sure you see Dan Lauria's (Mr. Arnold on The Wonder Years) version of Vince Lombardi before you see any of the others in production (Robert DeNiro is rumored for one of the others). He is remarkable, and clearly born to play the man. He matches the walk of Lombardi from the film footage that exists of him, as well as his iconic look. Judith Light (Who's the Boss) is a perfect counterpart as Marie Lombardi, giving the movie a light, hilarious touch. Almost everything that comes out of her mouth is a riot in what is, at many times, a very tragic film. Keith Nobbs gives a peppy charm to the Heinz-esque Mike McCormick.
This is not necessarily a football show. The novice football fan (do such things exist anymore?) can absolutely enjoy this for the simple, easy-to-understand drama of Lombardi's relationship with his players and his family. But there are certainly football elements. Of course, since the NFL has a hand in it, nothing is done halfway, the footage from the 60's look terrific, the recreation of the Packers look from back then right on from what I've seen in photos, and - not that it's too hard, as the set is minimal - the show captures the look and feel of the 1960's.
Is this a show for everyone? Perhaps not. Football can sometimes chase away some, but those that are balking at it will be missing a heck of a show. Everything Vince Lombardi did was for the purpose of winning. He certainly would not be disappointed by Lombardi.