“Half the quotes attributed to Lombardi are wrong,” said actor Dan Lauria, who portrays the former NFL coaching legend in a new Broadway play, “LOMBARDI,” which opened last week. “Lombardi never said, ‘Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.’ Red Blaik said it.”
Lauria, best known as the dad from TV’s “The Wonder Years,” is excited about the play, which opened Oct. 21 at the Circle in the Square Theatre in New York. He wouldn’t say he was born to play Lombardi, but he did acknowledge a physical resemblance to the iconic figure. “We do look alike,” Lauria said. “I’m a little taller than he was…and I even have a little space in between my teeth.” The similarities don’t stop there — Lauria and Lombardi share Italian-American heritage and both were born in Brooklyn.
In preparing for the role, Lauria tried to take in as much of the Lombardi philosophy as possible. So what quotes are attributable to Lombardi? “Far as we can tell, ‘Fatigue will make cowards of us all’ was his,” said Lauria, noting that Lombardi always wanted his men to be in great shape. Lauria pointed out that when Lombardi became the Washington Redskins head coach in 1969, he even took the famously out of shape quarterback Sonny Jurgensen and whipped him into shape for a season. “I had dinner with Sonny to prepare for the play and he (Sonny) said, “Oh yeah, he ran it (pot-belly) off me.’”
Lauria laughed, “He could really get after somebody. And then five minutes later he was huggin’ you.” Lauria went on to add, “You really had to worry when he wasn’t yellin’ at ya. That means he turned you off.”
Lauria gets to yell every night in his role as the coach – and he’s not only yelling at actors on the stage. During one of the previews for “LOMBARDI,” that led to a memorable moment. “In my opening speech, I use the audience as the locker room. I start out and I say, ‘You gotta give me everything you got!’ and I looked around and I think, there is a very familiar face in the front row … and it’s Don Shula. Oh Jeez! So I got to yell at Don Shula.
“When I saw Shula, I waved at him and he waved back,” Lauria said.
So how did the winningest coach in NFL history feel about Lauria’s performance? Veteran play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton was there with Shula that night. According to Lauria, “Dick was talkin’ about how Shula teared up at the end.”
NOTE: NFL Films president Steve Sabol –- who was at the Ice Bowl game in Green Bay — and former Steelers running back Merill Hoge will take part in a special Q&A with the audience following “LOMBARDI” on Tuesday, Oct. 26. For tickets and more information, check out the official “LOMBARDI” site.
— Tiffany Shine