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No such thing as too much Lombardi

The legend takes the stage at the Dells’ Palace Theater

by Michael Popke October 8, 2015

When I was in college, my favorite journalism professor was Gene Hintz, who covered the Green Bay Packers during the Vince Lombardi years. He would insert stories from that era into his lectures, emphasizing how his relationship with the coach made him a better reporter.

Hintz died in 2003 at age 71, but I thought of him Saturday night while watching Lombardi — a regional production at the Palace Theater in Wisconsin Dells of the Broadway play about a young reporter from Look magazine sent to cover the coach and his Packers during one week in 1965.

Written by Academy Award-winning documentarian Eric Simonson, Lombardi is based on the 1999 book When Pride Still Mattered, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss.

“It’s a play that regional theaters like to perform,” Maraniss recently told me, adding that at least 40 of them have staged productions over the years. “Actors love to play Vince and his wife, Marie.”

New York City-based Edward Furs convincingly portrays Lombardi as an endearing, inspirational and complicated grouch constantly in pursuit of perfection. He doesn’t like reporters and takes issue with the writer who originally called Lambeau Field the “Frozen Tundra.” “It’s redundant,” Lombardi barks. Lisa Franklin portrays Marie Lombardi with engaging, stressed-out sass.

The play begins with Lombardi’s hiring in 1959, after the Packers hit rock-bottom the previous season with a 1-10-1 record, then quickly jumps to 1965 as Green Bay prepares for a critical game against an unnamed rival. Three Packers players — Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung and Dave Robinson — round out the six-character cast, which performs on a large but sparse stage.

The Super Bowls, Lombardi’s eventual departure from Green Bay and his 1970 death from colon cancer are mere footnotes.

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