Friday, September 24, 2010

"I tell you, Mr. Lombardi, you got their attention."

The Green Bay Press-Gazette has given us our first look at the script for LOMBARDI, opening next month on Broadway, publishing publishing the opening scene, by permission of the producers.

The play, we are told, opens with future Hall of Fame players Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor shortly after meeting their new coach in Lombardi's office, in what was then known as "New City Stadium". The time is August of 1959, as Lombardi was about to start the first season of his run to glory.


Come in, boys.


Hello, Coach—(Taylor grunts.)


How'd I do out there, fellas?


Well, I tell you, Mr. Lombardi, you got their attention.


They could have walked out at once for all I knew.... I did not expect either of you till three days from now.


Yes, sir.


Was there some sort of confusion with the dates? You're here early.


Just a day or two.


Three days! How come?! This camp right now is for rookies and walk-ons only. What in the hell you hanging around camp for?!


Well, sir—


That is not a question, Mister. If you come around camp, you come to work out, not to stand around and watch or sit with the others during lunch to make conversation. That is what we call a distraction. Why are you here?!

(He waits.)

That's actually a real question. Answer.


Me and a couple of the boys, we were....


What?! You were what?!




Were you thinking you could get a head start on your bar hopping?


No, sir.


Do not lie to me, Paul Hornung! You were spotted till all hours of the night at a place called Bucky's Beanery. This establishment is off-limits. I've got a list—(Picks up a piece of paper from his desk.)

I've got a list here of all the bars and restaurants you are never, ever allowed to frequent again, and if I catch you there, you will be fined. You understand?


Yes, sir.


Jim, why are you here early?


I messed up on my calendar dates.


(After a beat.)

O.K. Both of you owe me 50 dollars.


What for?!


You missed curfew.


I didn't go out drinking.


Yet you weren't in your bed by 10.


I thought curfew didn't start till Tuesday.


Mister, curfew started the day you showed up to camp! There is going to be a new way of doing things around here. You understand?


Yes, sir.


Now. While I got you here, we might as well make it worth our time. Tomorrow you are going to suit up and work out with the rest of the team. Jim, you are the starting fullback. That is not going to change. Paul, the previous coach had you playing practically every position on the field.


Yes, sir.


From quarterback to running back and place kicker. Safety, punt and kickoff returns.


Yes, sir.


Now. Every team has a certain play that is theirs, and if they are good enough at running it, then there is no team that can stop it. Ours is the Power Sweep, we call it forty-nine, and you two are the cornerstones of that play. Jim, you and Paul here are going to be my thunder and lightning. You two are the engine that drives this team to victory.

(Goes to the chalkboard. Now he is speaking to the entire team.)

And this play, gentlemen, will be our bread and butter.

(Diagrams the play. Film and still images wash over the set.)

The offensive end takes an open position exactly nine feet from this tackle. The guard, Jerry Kramer, is wider than usual, for greater latitude to pull left or right. Then you, [Fred]Thurston—you may also break inside or outside, depending on how the play has broken. We create a seal here and a seal here and Jim Taylor, or Paul Hornung, as soon as you get the ball, you follow that blocker, and you run ... in ... the ... alley! You run to daylight! Wherever it shows. Inside the defensive tackle, inside the defensive end, outside the defensive linebacker. You run to daylight. Forty-nine. And this play can break any one of those three places. But ultimately, on this one play we have a hundred different options. Each man must read the defense as it happens and block according to his discretion. It's up to the team to decide which way it goes, each player making split-second decisions in concert. This is our signature play. This is the play that we must make go. Every team in the league is going to know we're going to run this play, and no matter how hard they try to stop us, they won't. Because they can't! And we will run it again and again and again!

(Lights shift back to Hornung)


That season we went from 1-10-1 to 7-5. You want to understand Coach, you watch that play. It's him.
And with that, we're off.

If this is really the opening scene, I'm guessing that the exerpt begins somewhat into that scene. This would seem to be the audience's introduction to Lombardi, but we've already been introduced to Paul Hornung as well as "McCormack", the reporter character, to whom Hornung is presumably speaking.

According to Playwriting 101, I would fully expecting the play to open with McCormack, either young and cocky at the beginning of his assignment to get at the "real Vince Lombardi", or (if the play is to be told in flashback) weary and jaded after he has succeeded/failed. Eric Simonson's a sharp writer, though, so we may well be surprised. And the exerpt is an interesting introduction to the man and his philosophy, not to mention the Packer Sweep.

LOMBARDI had its first preview last night, and opens on October 21st. Tickets are already on sale - time to get a jump on those Christmas lists.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Little Help Needed

Living in New York, it's tough to watch the complete games. And until the NFL makes them available on iTunes, I have to rely on the kindness of Wisconsinites and/or people with a dish.

I've lost my source for high-def copies of the games and am having a hard time finding a new one. If there's anyone out there who can send me DVDs, I'd appreciate it. I would of course reimburse you for all costs.

Drop me a line. And thanks!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Blog, and Ye Shall Receive

Last night, I received a very nice email from David Maraniss, the author of When Pride Still Mattered (the source for Broadway's upcoming LOMBARDI).

He had very complimentary words for the blog, even my little constructive criticism about the socks and facemasks.

I'm relieved he took the comments in the spirit in which they were intended and not as more Internet snarking; he offered to pass them along to the costume designer.

As if the show itself wasn't enough, more reason to look forward to the opening.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Five for Facemask

I was so blinded by the socks, I missed this other anachronism in Broadway's LOMBARDI:

On the right, the actor playing Jim Taylor is wearing what appears to be an off-the-shelf TK throwback helmet, manufactured by Riddell and widely available from collectibles stores including the NFL's online store and the Packers Pro Shop. If not exactly what Taylor wore in 1965 (right), it's close. Certainly close enough to give a feel for the period.

Robinson, on the other hand, is clearly wearing a modern face mask on his helmet. His elaborate cage looks especially strange next to Taylor's double-bar Riddell. Maybe not the 2010s, but perhaps at least the 1980s.

In 1965, a lineman's facemask incorporated a single vertical bar. Maybe not as intimidating as the bizarre spiderwebs worn today, but I don't think anyone found Robinson or Nitschke any less intimidating for it.

Here's a picture of Robinson at Lambeau Field on January 2 1966, just weeks after the play is set. He's going after the mighty Jim Brown in the 1965 championship game. Although Brown would come down with the pass, the Packers won the game, and the world title, 23-12.

Helmet Hut has a beautiful 1968 Robinson helmet on display.

This facemask is slightly different facemask from his 1965 version, not as curved at the corners but still sporting a single vertical bar. This photo of Robinson comes from about the same period:

We can narrow down the date through the opponent: he's chasing running back Tommy Mason, who was only with the Rams for three seasons, 1968-1970. In 1969 the Packers wore an NFL anniversary patch on their left shoulders, so that would make this photo either 1968 or 1970.

I'll see if I can figure out exactly what facemask the Broadway production is using.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Ring's the Thing

The Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame has a couple of very cool new additions—legend Bart Starr has donated four of his World Championship awards - three rings and a watch—plus a charm necklace worn by Cherry.

The necklace is interesting, holding ten charms; one for each of Bart's NFL titles, one for each Super Bowl (a rare case of "doubling up those two seasons), one for his selection to the Hall of Fame in Canton and one commemorating his being listed in Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities.

Outstanding, as is Bart's collection of rings.

This gives us a unique look at a players' mementos. Starr has mounted the three rings—1961, 1965 and 1966 (Super Bowl I)—on a plaque which hung in his study.

The watch he was given for winning the 1962 World Championship was not on display at the press conference. For now, Starr is keeping his 1967 Super Bowl ring (he wears it in public); but expects to eventually donate it as well, for all football fans to see and enjoy.

"Bart and I were going on a trip sometime ago and every time I left the plaque was hanging in his study with the rings on it and I felt very uncomfortable about leaving our house and having that very vulnerable on the wall, and my necklace was at home too. And I thought this isn't good. Not that many people didn't get to enjoy it - people did come in from time to time - and I thought what a great thing if thousands of people could enjoy seeing these rings and my necklace."
–Cherry Starr

A very classy move from a very classy couple. I personally consider Starr the single greatest living Green Bay Packer.

(photo credit: Corey Wilson/Green Bay Press-Gazette)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Green, Gold and the Great White Way

After October 21, 2010, Broadway may never be the same.

As both a theatrical producer and Packer fan, I've been following this production's development with some interest. It sits right there at the intersection of two of my great loves, making me more or less this show's natural audience.

LOMBARDI is written by Steppenwolf Theatre member (and Wisconsin native) Eric Simonson, adaptated from When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss. Simonson previously adapted the Maraniss biography into a different play, called "The Only Thing", for the sadly-defunct Madison Repertory Theatre in 2007.

The show stars Dan Lauria (The Wonder Years) and Judith Light (who was magnificent in Wit Off-Broadway, but is best known for her television work on Who's the Boss) as Vince and Marie Lombardi. It is produced by Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser, in partnership with the NFL, and directed by Thomas Kail. Rounding out the creating team is David Korins (Scenic Design), Paul Tazewell (Costume Design), Howell Binkley (Lighting Design), Acme Sound Partners and Nevin Steinberg (Sound Design), and Zachary Borovay (Projection Design).

Previews begin September 23, and it opens on October 21. It will run at the Circle in the Square Theatre in midtown Manhattan.

Set in 1965, the narrative concerns a reporter (played by Keith Nobbs) who has come to Green Bay to do a story on Lombardi. From one of the show's television commercials:
My name's Michael McCormick. I'm a sports reporter for Look magazine. My next story is on Vince Lombardi, coach of the World Champion Green Bay Packers. He wins practically all the time, and no one knows exactly why or how. It's my job to find out, and it's Coach Lombardi's job to keep me from finding out. Everything's a contest with him. Same for me. May the best man win.
This is a classic dramatic conceit: the outsider introduced into an existing world. He serves as the audience surrogate, an excuse to introduce all the expository material that we'll need to understand the world of the play. He has a second function in this case; by inserting a fictional character among real people the playwright has a free hand to explore motivations and an emotional journey that those real people might prefer not be attached to their names.

I'm curious to see how they make the narrative work, if this conflict they've created can be sustained over 90 minutes, and if they try to assign some type of character arc to Lombardi himself or keep it within the fictional creation McCormick.

Of course, I'm also curious as to how the production will treat one of Lombardi's most enduring legacies, his classic Packer uniform. You knew that it had to make an appearance, right? The show can't all be serious speeches in suits and narrow ties. These production photos were taken during the show's out-of-town tryout in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and should give us a pretty good idea of what the Broadway production will look like, starting with the entire cast:

left to right: Dave Robinson (Robert Christopher Riley), Paul Hornung (Bill Dawes), Jim Taylor (Chris Sullivan), Vince Lombardi (Dan Lauria), Michael McCormick (Keith Nobbs) and Marie Lombardi (Judith Light)

The uniforms look accurate enough at first glance. Although Lombardi's design underwent a series of changes in its first several seasons, by 1965 all the elements that today we associate with the uniform were in place; the particular block number font had been added the season before and the green/white/green pants stripes (matching the helmet) were in their third season.

I do have one nitpick, and it's that the three gentlemen are wearing their socks like baseball players. Note to Mr. Tazewell: football players never let their stirrup straps show. Going back to the earliest days of the pro game they have always worn low whites over the colored stirrups. Those whites have been pulled up to various degrees, in the case of Lombardi's Packers covering not only the straps but frequently the team's distinctive stripes as well:

A minor detail, but hey. They're so close in other respects.

Of course, Vince Lombardi had a uniform of his own, and Lauria wears it well:

Dan Lauria

That's the classic Lombardi game day sideline look - fedora and camel hair coat over the pullover team jacket. We also get a view of Lauria in Lombardi's practice regalia:

Keith Nobbs and Dan Lauria

Ah, my favorite Packers logo of all, the interlocking GB. Introduced by Lombardi, it was worn on practice caps through his tenure and on into the Phil Bengston and Dan Devine eras.

On the non-uniform front, we have these photos to give us a general sense of the production. Circle in the Square is an inspired choice - an intimate house with a thrust stage to highlight the small two-character scenes, perfect for this kind of show.

Dan Lauria

Judith Light and Dan Lauria

Dan Lauria

Dan Lauria and Judith Light

Sports movies are tough enough to make work, but a play set in the world of sports is a unique animal. A play can't fall back on the manufactured drama of The Big Game in the third act. A play can't offer up endless montages of game action to cover structural weaknesses. A play is actors, audience, no place to hide. Emotions carried through the air by the playwright's words.

Now, I can see this going one of two ways: the producers will either make us care about the Lombardi character as a human being, or they will be content to collect our money and feed us our own edited nostalgia, a "greatest hits" clip show of Lombardi's pithy quotes, inspirational speeches and sideline rants.

I'm curious to see if the story can really stand on its own, if it has the emotional weight to justify the $150 (and up) ticket, or if it's just a jukebox musical for sports geeks. I have tickets for the first week. Should be interesting.

Return of an Old Friend

Uni Watch comes through with another great catch from Sunday's game against the Eagles (which I still haven't been able to watch in full). This time the find comes from reader Ryan Kuehn, who noticed the return of a classic Packers logo: the Packers were wearing the old "Heisman/Wisconsin" logo on their visor tabs.

The best shot I've been able to find so far is this picture of Cullen Jenkins sacking Philadelphia quarterback Kevin Kolb:

It's hard to see in action, but when magnified the logo is clearly identifiable.

Even in the magnification it's hard to say conclusively if the logo has been updated in any way or if they're using the original, but it appears to be the standard early 1960s design, including separate dots on the state marking both Green Bay and Milwaukee, the team's two homes from 1933 through 1994.

This was a particularly good catch, since so few players were wearing visors:

I've been pouring over game photos, and it appears that Jenkins and safety Nick Collins were the only two Packers wearing visors. You can just make out the tabs on Nick Collins's helmet (left):

The "Heisman/Wisconsin" logo (which really needs a catchier name - any ideas?) was introduced early in Lombardi's tenure.

Although it was never used on the uniforms, it was extensively used on cards, team publications, letterhead, game tickets, and the like.

It was also featured on some training and sideline wear, including this "Staff" jacket worn by Lombardi in December of 1965:

The logo was phased out after the Lombardi era as the helmet "G" began to be used more and more as the club's primary logo. It was rediscovered in the 1990s as teams became more aware of value (and, more importantly, the marketability) of their own history. Unfortunately, the poor state of pro football uniform research at the time often led to it being oriented incorrectly. Instead of the proper angle, the football was often placed on a directly vertical line, as seen here on an early Mitchell & Ness shirt:

That error seems to have been corrected, by and large. And to my knowledge, this is the first time the logo has actually appeared on a uniform, which takes all that merchandise out of the "throwback" realm and makes it current.

I love this logo. The rendering is somewhat crude, with the white-one-white-on-white player, but it's a perfect representation of Lombardi's "run to daylight" philosophy. The little guy looks like he's shrugging off defenders while executing a perfect Green Bay Packers' Power Sweep.

This logo seems to me to be a perfect candidate for an update. Give it a more detailed rendering, maybe along the lines of the Lambeau Field logo, and it's good for another few decades.

(h/t: Ryan Kuehn, Uni Watch)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Patch Job

Living in New York, I seldom have the opportunity to watch the games live, even on television. More often than not, I have to stream the game online until my Wisconsin source sends me a DVD. Yesterday's game was one of those, and while I was refreshing my Scorecenter ap every three seconds, I missed an absolute doozy of a uniform note. Running back Brandon Jackson's TV numbers were sewn onto patches, then apparently applied over a different set of numbers.

Uni Watch reader Adam Pavlovich got a screen grab:

That looks like a "2" on his left shoulder.

Last-minute modification? I'm contacting the Packers, see if we can get an answer.

(ht: Adam Pavlovich & Uni Watch)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

So Simple, It's Perfect

This morning, Nike unveiled its new slate of special "Pro Combat" uniforms for the college teams they outfit. Among the standard hyper-futuristic designs on display is this 1967 throwback for the Oregon State Beavers:

Most notable are the sleeve stripes, which have been moved to the compression shirts:

What a novel idea, preserving 1960s design with twenty-first century technology. If Oregon State can do this, then why can't the Packers?

UPDATE: Paul Lukas posted more pictures of the uniform on as part of his coverage of the unveiling:

The undershirt looks pretty good in its own right. I can easily imagine a green-and-gold version for sale at the Pro Shop:

Here's Paul's take (emphasis mine):
Surprisingly old-school, no? ... Hard to believe this is the same school that wore that sports bra design a few years back. ... A few minutes before the unveiling, a guy from Nike introduced himself to me, pointed at this design, and said, "I worked on all of these, and this is the best one of the bunch." Hard to disagree. ... Matte-finish helmet is interesting. ... Putting the sleeve stripes on the undersleeves, instead of on the actual jersey, is probably the future of football striping.
We can certainly hope so.