In 1959, the Green Bay Packers hired head coach Vince Lombardi in a decision that made the team perennial winners in the 1960s and set a standard for success in professional football. Lombardi's Packers won five National Football League (NFL) championships, including the first two Super Bowls. The Super Bowl trophy was later named for him and his name is forever written in the record books, but the drama Lombardi, recently at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, went beyond the trophies and statistics in its look at the man behind the myth.
"Who the heck is Vince Lombardi," poses Michael McCormick (Kevin Songy), a 29-year-old journalist who spends a week at the Lombardi residence. McCormick observes Lombardi (Casey Groves) on the practice field and in his living room. McCormick's assignment is to figure out what makes the demanding head coach great. Lombardi has a sandpaper voice, wears thick glasses and embodies ambition and success to many. His perfectionism made him a great leader and at times a frustrating person. Groves does an excellent job embodying these qualities while giving the famed coach personal charm.
Lombardi's demanding nature carries over into his personal life. The show uses his marriage to Marie (Rachel Whitman Groves) as a way to juxtapose Lombardi's public and personal images. Marie is a highball-drinking sharp-shooter, and Whitman's comedic timing is perfect in the deadpan line, "I miss going to Bloomingdale's," referring to the cosmopolitan benefits of New York, where Lombardi was assistant coach for the Giants. Marie's brassy demeanor and witty comebacks add a layer of humor that helps make the show as fun as it is serious.
Written by Eric Simonson and based on David Maraniss' book When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, the play includes beloved Packers players Paul Hornung (Ross Britz) and Jim Taylor (Carl Palmer). Vintage Packer game footage is intermittently projected onto a large screen framed by yellow goalposts. Hearing Lombardi's actual voice and seeing his picture on the screen can be distracting, but the footage helps transport the audience to the Packers' golden era.
If Lombardi rested on a game-by-game reenactment of the coach's career, it probably would not have scored a lot of points. It's the portrayal of Lombardi as a man, not just a coach, which makes this show a winner. Lombardi truly cares for — Marie says "loves" — his players. In one scene, he massages Taylor's shoulders like a trainer would while talking about the greatness of the Packers. He set high expectations because he believed his players could and would meet them.
The production is a fitting tribute to the Hall of Fame coach — whose grandson Joe is currently the quarterbacks coach for the New Orleans Saints. By approaching Lombardi's story thoughtfully, the show honors the man and makes us think about the legacies we'll leave behind. — TYLER GILLESPIE