Lombardi comes to Broadway — and to Yankees Magazine
April 16, 2011 – In addition to my Q & A with Orlando Magic star Dwight Howard, there will be a “Five Minutes with…” interview in the May issue of Yankees Magazine with actor Dan Lauria.
You may remember Lauria from his role as the gruff father in the TV show, The Wonder Years, which ran from 1988 through 1993.
These days, Lauria plays Vince Lombardi in the Broadway show, Lombardi.
I had lunch with Lauria and his co-star Chris Sullivan (seen on the righthand side of the photo below) at Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant and Sports Bar earlier this week. Our two-hour laughter-filled discussion included a host of stories that Lauria had learned about Lombardi as he prepared for the role.
Of those anecdotes, my favorite ones involved Fuzzy Thurston, a long-time offensive guard for the Green Bay Packers.
“Fuzzy told me that Lombardi loved to tell jokes, but he wasn’t very good at it,” Lauria said. “He would tell a joke, and no-one would laugh. No one understood the coach’s humor. Fuzzy also told me that the first time they practiced the famous power sweep, he made a mistake because he was over thinking it. Lombardi came up to him and said, ‘If I wanted a brain surgeon out here, I would have drafted a doctor. Now, just go out and hit the right guy.’”
I also asked Lauria about the many sports icons who have frequented Lombardi over the last few months. His response was fascinating.
“I always focus on one person in the crowd during the scenes in which coach Lombardi is addressing the team,” Lauria said. “A few weeks ago, I was yelling toward a guy in the crowd, and I thought he looked familiar. Then I realized… it was Don Shula! I couldn’t believe I had just reprimanded the coach who led a team to the only perfect season about not being perfect.
“Frank Gifford said, ‘What coach Lombardi would have liked the most is the effort you put into playing this role,’” Lauria continued. “And, Hank Aaron told me that he used to work out with coach Lombardi after the season and that Lombardi used to ask him to try out for the Packers, because he admired him so much.”
A few days before our lunch, I saw Lombardi for the first time. It was one of the best Broadway shows I have seen, and I would recommend it to anyone — not just to sports enthusiasts.
One line that resonated with me came in a scene in which Lombardi was addressing the Green Bay Packers for the first time. Mid-way through his speech, the coach said, “I want the Packers to become the Yankees of football.”
“That speaks to the greatness of the New York Yankees,” Lauria said. “Coach Lombardi always talked to his players about the Yankees. Coach was a New Yorker, and he went to Fordham University in the Bronx. He was a devout Yankees fan, and he was very proud that he had played and coached at Yankee Stadium.”
–Alfred Santasiere III