Sports Business

Q&A: Vince Lombardi (Dan Lauria) Returns To Green Bay

For many years, actor Dan Lauria was most closely known by television and pop culture fans for his role as Jack Arnold in the hit television series The Wonder Years.

However, for the past year, Lauria has become more known for his latest role, that of legendary Green Bay Packers Coach Vince Lombardi, a role he portrayed for eight months on Broadway in Lombardi.

The show ended its Broadway run in May. But this week, many members of the original cast, led by Lauria, returned to the place where Vince Lombardi became an icon with the Green Bay Packers. The cast was in Wisconsin for a series of dramatic readings of the play, first in the Atrium in Lambeau Field and then at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton.

The timing for the trip was perfect, as it concluded with the end of the lockout and the Packers return to the area to defend their NFL title. Big Lead Sports spoke with Lauria to get his thoughts on football and playing the legendary coach in the place where he made his mark.

Big Lead Sports: How has it been playing Vince Lombardi, first in New York and now in Wisconsin?

Dan Lauria: It has really been an honor, and I think we have done it right in capturing what The Coach was all about. The responses we got from people who knew him . . . his kids, his former players, family members, even his secretary . . . when we were in New York was phenomenal. Coming to Wisconsin is just as special and even a little eerie, but we are really happy to have made the trip and give a little back to those who could not make it to New York.

BLS: Have you walked the field in character?

DL: (Laughs) Nope. We don’t want to tread where we don’t belong, and don’t want to do anything to besmirch the memory of The Coach. We are in Lambeau for a few days. Last year we went to his house and all the places where he spent time, and that was very special. Many of those people we met when we started out this process last year have come and seen us on our return trip here, so that too is very gratifying. People know we are here and  think we have done right by all those who knew him.

BLS: You did some NFL Network ads in character where you recited some of Lombardi’s inspirational lines. Any talk of addressing the team when they open camp?

DL: Coach McCarthy has everything in hand, and a good amount of the players have seen the show at some point, so I think they have all the drama they need. We want to stay out of the way and do our job as well. I did get to go on the field with the Coach last year and that was pretty special, being an old jock. This time I’m glad to do my part for the fans.

BLS: Did the lockout impact the play at all in New York?

DL: I don’t think that much. Maybe the whole Packers team could have come at some point or a few other players, but I think many made it to the show. I know that Green Bay winning the Super Bowl had a positive effect for us, and that’s tough for me to admit as a Giants fan, but it was a great run for the team obviously. We got great support from teams like the Giants, Jets, Redskins, Ravens and the Dolphins, as well as the Packers. I got to do the audio version of Rex Ryan’s book. So overall I think all the positives far outweighed any of the negatives that arose from the lockout. As a fan, I am just glad its settled, and that’s a great tribute to both the NFL and the Players Association.

BLS: Could the success of Lombardi lead to a whole series of dramatic coaching stories?

DL: There are many I am sure that could be done. I know Dick Enberg did one on Al McGuire and I’m sure there are some John Wooden and Red Auerbach drafts floating around . . . What I think this has done is maybe open up a genre for sports that can be brought to the stage. Babe Didrikson is a great story, Jim Thorpe is another.  Producers Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser, have announced plans for [a play about] Larry Bird and Magic Johnson for next year. I have played other coaches on TV and in the movies and have read some other scripts, so you never know. However for me, Coach Lombardi was special, and I am glad I had the opportunity to be involved.

BLS: Is the role something you may reprise on the big screen?

DL: I loved playing The Coach on the stage, and bringing his character to life both in his native New York and in Wisconsin. You never know what the future holds, but I am looking at a number of things coming up. The bottom line is I love to act, it’s my passion. We were given a great script from Eric Simonson, based in a great book by David Maraniss, and got tremendous direction from Thomas Kail, who is one of the great young directors in theater. You combine that with an amazing cast, and great support from Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser, and it is hard for anyone to screw it up. It will be hard to re-create that chemistry elsewhere, but you never know.

I do know one thing: This play is great for regional theater to do, because it is so well written and staged, and I think that is great news for all the regional theater companies around the country who are always looking for a great new American play to do.

BLS: Any disappointment that more people might view you now as Coach Lombardi than as Jack Arnold?

DL: Nope, none at all. But it’s better than being known as Jimmy Hoffa (whom Lauria portrayed in an Off-Broadway production).

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