One of the most famous men in football, Vince Lombardi is best known as head coach of the Green Bay Packers during the 1960s. A commanding personality considered the most successful coach in gridiron history, Lombardi led the team to five NFL championships — including the first two Super Bowls — and six conference titles in nine seasons.
Shining a light on such a polarizing character, Theatre Jacksonville stages "Lombardi," a play written by Eric Simonson and based on the book "When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi" written by David Maraniss. "Lombardi" is directed by Jason Collins.
"I knew the football life of Lombardi — his on-field accomplishments. I knew the almost-God-like status Packer fans, and to an extent football fans, have with Lombardi," Collins said in an email to Folio Weekly. "What I didn't know before taking on this piece was his life as just a man — a married man with a family and a faith. That's really what ‘Lombardi,' the play, is about."
Collins, a Lake Forest Elementary School teacher and longtime Theatre Jax contributor, last directed "Twentieth Century" and has acted as well — in "Inherit the Wind" and "Getting Sara Married."
"My experiences with Theatre Jacksonville have always been ones of great enjoyment," Collins said. "Just to be able to a part of a theater community that cares about bringing the arts to Jacksonville is really special. I'm very grateful and appreciative to have an opportunity to direct and perform here
Born and raised in Sarasota, Collins graduated with a bachelor's degree in theater arts and education from Ferrum College and went on to perform professionally for more than 20 years, in the works of Shakespeare as well as a stint with Actors' Equity, touring with Troupe America, a theater and production company based in Minneapolis. He settled in Jacksonville in 2005.
About a year ago, Theatre Jacksonville Executive Director Sarah Boone contacted Collins to see if he'd be interested in directing a play about football legend Vince Lombardi. Collins, an avid sports fan, replied, "You bet."
"We were very excited to include ‘Lombardi' as this year's season opener to appeal to the many football fans living in our area," Boone said. "The play had a great run on Broadway and garnered lots of positive reviews and accolades. We're hoping to attract sports as well as theater fans to the show, which will increase our cultural outreach into the community."
The play follows Lombardi through a week in the 1965 season as he strives to lead his team to the championship. Meanwhile, a Look Magazine reporter interviews Lombardi, his players and wife, Marie — hoping to unveil the coach's formula for success and how he became one of professional football's greatest.
Theatre Jacksonville's cast for "Lombardi" includes Daniel Austin (reporter Michael McCormick), Damon Clark (Dave "Robbie" Robinson), Lucas Hopper (Notre Dame All-American and Packer Paul Hornung), Alexis Lambert (Lombardi's wife Marie), Michael Ray (Lombardi) and Matt Tompkins (LSU
All-American and Packer Jim Taylor).
"Putting a theatrical performance on, where you are painting visual pictures through other performers, is an incredible feeling," Collins said. "The creative desire of finding the visual way to put all that stimulus onto a stage, entertain the audience and bring the Lombardis to life is simply a theater director's adrenaline rush."
One of the play's central themes is the stress that football has on Lombardi, his players and his family.
"Basically, the Lombardis were dealing with issues and life pressure that many of us face on an everyday basis," Collins said. "That's the great part of this production — showing the audience the real issues of football life in the '50s and '60s."
Lombardi, who has been revered for his innovations in teamwork, commitment and discipline, once said, "I would say that the quality of each man's life is the full measure of that man's commitment of excellence and victory — whether it be football, whether it be business, whether it be politics or government or what have you."