With Lombardi, NFL Makes Broadway Debut

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Every pro-football fan knows whose name is on the Super Bowl trophy. But the National Football League believes that not enough of them know who Vince Lombardi was. The legendarily successful Green Bay Packers coach and general manager had his heyday nearly a half-century ago.

So the league is aiming to change that and, in the process, re-brand Super Bowl imagery around one of its most iconic heroes. The NFL is sponsoring the Broadway play Lombardi, starring Dan Lauria, which opens at New York’s Circle in the Square Theater tonight.

Network NFL broadcasts lately have been touting the play, for example, even showing clips from it and highlighting the emotional reactions of preview attendees such as former Miami Dolphins coach – and Lombardi rival – Don Shula. But now the Lombardi promotion kicks into high gear.[more]

The league has placed banner ads for it on NFL.com and sent out e-mail blasts to its database of fans offering discounts on tickets. The NFL put a billboard in Times Square and is comping individual teams with tickets when they travel to play the Giants and Jets this year.

(It helps the local interest that Lombardi was Brooklyn-born, a graduate of Fordham University in the Bronx, coached at West Point and then was offensive coordinator for the New York Giants before jumping to the Packers.)

Lombardi became god-like to the sports world not only because of his accomplishments – including leading the Packers teams that won the first two Super Bowls – but also because of his unique brand of leadership. He browbeat and bullied his players, but he also protected and loved them. And, of course, forged them into a team whose likes may never be equaled.

So still, nearly to a man, five decades after they played for him, Packers of the Sixties testify to their admiration and awe of their coach.

That kind of leadership acumen also spawned lots of interest in Lombardi’s life, and in his management skills and methods, over the years after his death in 1970 from cancer, at the age of 57. The rise in Lombardi lore culminated in the publication of the great biography on which Lombardi is based, When Pride Still Mattered, in 2000, by Wisconsin native and veteran journalist David Maraniss.

And don’t expect the NFL’s re-connection with Lombardi to end, regardless of how well the Broadway play fares. The Lombardi Trophy and his name have been incorporated into the logo of the next Super Bowl, for the first time.

And the league also is working on a movie about Lombardi, with ESPN, that will bow before the Super Bowl in 2012. The star: Robert De Niro.

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