‘Lombardi’ draws all-star crowd for worthy cause

Frank Gifford, who played for Vince Lombardi when the latter was an offensive coordinator with the New York Giants, was among those on hand Tuesday night to support the Player Care Foundation.

NEW YORK — Retired players such as Frank Gifford, Willie Lanier and Howie Long were in attendance at the Broadway play “Lombardi” on Tuesday night to support, well, retired players.

The NFL Family Night event honored the Player Care Foundation, which offers grants and medical programs to those who have suited up in the league to help improve their quality of life.

“I think the foundation has been particularly effective on medical issues like the joint replacement program and the ones for cardiovascular and prostate screenings,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who announced post play that another $100,000 was raised for Player Care through donations and also proceeds from an auction that runs through the end of the month have raised another $150,000.

Goodell also says he understands that some needs are purely financial, and that while he expects pensions to be raised as part of the collective bargaining process, there is still a need to garner funds for research and other programs for Player Care.

“I think certain medical needs are unique to our population of players, and it’s great how people have come together to do more for our retired colleagues,” said Goodell. “We have to do what we can to contribute like we’re doing here tonight.”

As for the play itself, Gifford could provide the best critique — having played for Lombardi during the coach’s pre-Packers days, when he served as the Giants’ offensive coordinator.

“While the actors are fantastic, I was close to [Lombardi’s wife] Marie and Vinny and he was a highly intelligent guy, having graduated summa cum laude from Fordham, and I’m not sure he comes across quite like that in the play,” said Gifford. “And his wife Marie was a great lady. I’m not sure they captured her as properly as they should have. They actually got along great. I mean they were both pretty noisy, but they were still crazy about each other.”

When asked to briefly characterize Lombardi, several former players offered their opinions:

“Gregarious,” said Gifford.

“Innovative,” offered Ozzie Newsome.

“The embodiment of excellence,” proclaimed George Martin.

Goodell expanded on that, saying, “He represents so much about football and the influence you can have on people. He had an incredible impact on the lives of his players and I think that’s what made him extraordinary.”

So who could compare to a coach so legendary that his name is etched on the Super Bowl trophy?

Bill Parcells is the Lombardi of the Giants to me, in that he was able to bring a team of guys together and get them to play at a higher level and perform for him,” said Harry Carson. “And also because I believe we’re better individuals as a result of having the opportunity to play for him.”

Martin, who was also the Event Chairman of Tuesday’s affair, concurred with Carson regarding their former coach.

“I think some of the one-liners that Parcells is noted for are very Lombardi-like, such as Vince’s famous, ‘What the hell’s going on out here?’ outburst,” said Martin. “Parcells has had a few of those moments himself, but I think the success in his body of work also comes close to Lombardi’s.”

But it was Newsome who offered a different opinion as to who most resembles the celebrated coach.

“I’m going to embarrass John Harbaugh and say John Harbaugh because he’s the one I hired,” laughed Newsome, the Ravens’ general manager. “Although I’ll let him defend that one.”

— Lisa Altobelli

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