'Lombardi,' Part 3: The Leading Man

Our tribute to the life and legacy of Vince Lombardi continues with an exclusive interview with actor Dan Lauria, who portrays Lombardi in the new Broadway play bearing the coach's name. Lauria is a pro's pro - he's perhaps best known for his work on The Wonder Years, but his bio reveals a huge amount of TV and film work. Early reviews of the play speak to the absolutely authoritative way in which Lauria plays the coach, and it was a pleasure to talk with him.

Shutdown Corner: When did you first become involved with the play? And what was the casting process?

Dan Lauria: I was asked to read the part from the beginning, which was early spring, but you never know how those things go. They asked me to come back and keep going and it worked out.

SC: How familiar were you with the Lombardi legacy, and what's been your involvement in football through your life?

DL: I actually met Coach Lombardi when I was in high school on Long Island. We won the Rutgers Cup and I got to shake his hand. I played football in high school and in college at southern Connecticut -- I was a linebacker and captain as a senior, and then i coached at Lyndhurst high school on Long Island after that, so I know that game a little bit.

SC: How much are you like the Lombardi that you're portraying?

DL: There is no one really like Coach Lombardi. He was a very complex man, a great teacher and a great motivator who had issues with his family but was a very caring person. I think we all want to win and are passionate in what we do, so i think that's part of it. I also am a great admirer of teachers so we share the teaching element as well, but I'm not a yeller at all.

SC: I've been asking a lot of people about this - what are some things about Lombardi don't we know? What things add to the real and more complex person than the caricature some people see?

DL: His greatest accomplishment, he said -- what he was most proud of -- was an award he got at Fordham for teaching. He loved teaching. He also used to read cookbooks and that comes out in the play, even though he didn't really cook. He also always wore his Fordham ring as a sign of good luck, not his championship rings. That too is in the play. He was also not the constant yeller that people see on NFL Films on game days. He would listen and he would adjust and he always knew what buttons to push with his players to get them to be their best.

SC: I assume you've been in touch with some of Lombardi's old players, friends and family, etc. What has the overall take on your performance been from the people who knew him?

DL: Well, some of his relatives have come and called me "Uncle Vince". [Former Packers fullback] Chuck Mercein thought we got it right, and Frank Gifford and Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff all have been very complimentary as well. Don Shula also seemed to enjoy it too, so we are doing okay, i guess!

SC: You and Judith Light have received an equal [and enormous] amount of praise for your performances. What's it like working with her?

DL: She is a great friend and a pro. We have worked together before; I played her pimp in [the soap opera] "One Life to Live" at one point, and by far she is the one who really has helped the play identify with a large audience.

SC: What has this done for your "Q" rating? Are you getting a lot of love from people on the streets of New York?

DL: It's funny - people always thought I was Joe Torre when I was in New York before. I don't worry about those things but it is always great to be in New York and we hope people enjoy the show.

SC: What is your favorite line or passage from the play?

DL: That's hard to say. It's not really a line or passage but it is really the message of the play, which if we do it right, will give people the message that they can be successful at whatever they do through hard work and dedication. It is what Coach Lombardi strove for and i hope that's what people take away from this work that our playwright Eric Simonson and our director Tommy Kail have given us.

‘Lombardi,' Part 1: The Dream-Maker (Interview with David Maraniss)

'Lombardi,' Part 2: The Steve Sabol Podcast (Interview with the President of NFL Films)

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