As most of you know, I reside in the land where it’s culturally acceptable to wear a wedge of cheese on your head. For two years I’ve had to put up with entire sports segments (or more!) on the local newscasts talk nothing but the Green Bay Packers… and that was only during preseason! I then had the ‘joy’ of having to live through a Super Bowl loss from my beloved Steelers at the hands of the Packers. Prior to the big game, the trash talk was flying all over the office. I walked around with a bullseye on my back taking the jokes, jabs and criticism in stride. And, I’ll have to be honest – most of these Cheeseheads around here (at least where I work) won rather gracefully. But, that didn’t make the pill any smaller to swallow.
My time here in Milwaukee and the current evolution of circumstances has brought a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Green Bay Packers and its fans. Little did I know that the work that I do would change how I view this team, its fans and its history.
On October 21, 2010 the play Lombardi opened up on Broadway with Wonder Years’ Keven Arnold’s dad, Dan Lauria, playing the title character. I work for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, and once our theater learned that the play was on Broadway, our organization knew that the play had to come back to its roots during our 2011/2012 season. It was a long and hard fought battle to get the rights to this production, but our artistic team was able to do it.
For the past six months I’ve been knee deep in pre-planning and executing ideas for this production. And, through it all I’ve learned the rich history of a man and team (beyond what I already knew) that helped define the game of football. I’ve also learned a greater appreciation for the obsession fans have for their Green Bay Packers. The theater and its inner circles around here have become united in a common cause of making this production a unique experience that pays respectful homage to the man, Vincent, and the legacy he left behind – all while blowing your socks off with great scenic design, sound composition and visual effects. It’s quite something, and I never expected to be more proud of a production that gives a nod to an organization and people that were ‘the enemy’ back in February. I found myself drawn into the story as just a football fan and became enamored through it all.
Lombardi was an amazing man and coach. He was a genius at the game – he created Play 49 or also known as the Lombardi Power Sweep – and an even better human being for truly loving his players through tough love. Lombardi ended up being one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game and made the Packers one of the most successful franchises in NFL history (AFL Days and modern era). The Packers were 1-10-1 the year before he became their coach and were 7-5 the following year. He won championships with the Pack in 1961, ’62, ’65, ’66 (SB I), and ’67 (SB II). Those three years in a row have gone unmatched since. Because of his winning tradition, the NFL named the championship trophy after him in 1970 in honor of his sudden death to cancer.
The play contained some of his famous locker room speeches, his interactions with players, and his home life with his wife Marie. I know it’s just acting, but like any good play, the actors continually drew me in to that period in NFL history – and it was truly magical. As a Steelers fan and as a citizen of Steelers Nation, I’ve inherited the history of the Rooney’s and that franchise. It’s difficult not to draw parallels.
As a bit of a confession, I began to drop my resistance and fully embraced this show. At first I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the thought of having to deal with anything and everything Packers for all those months and essentially live and breathe this show for the two weeks it was in tech rehearsals. Come time for opening night I was ‘drinking the kool aid’ and really excited for this production. And, the response of theater goers and football fans alike only fed the fire. (cont.)