John Pinero is Vince Lombardi in a One Man Play and Motivational Presentations
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Los Angeles Times

Sunday January 5, 1997
By Mike Downey

A Play of the Day the Lombardi Way

Green Bay had a game.  A big game.  Big, big game.  I needed to get in the mood.  So, I went to see Vince Lombardi.

I bet you thought he was dead.

He isn’t.  Vince is very much alive, like Elvis.  He is appearing Fridays and Saturdays at a place called the Two Roads Theatre, which is a 48-seat room at 4348 Tujunga Ave., in the slightly-warmer-than-Wisconsin town of Studio City.  Cheeseheads welcome; call (818) 766-9381.

Lombardi is playing himself in a play called "Vince," a one-man show, unlike football.  Oh, I know my program said Vince was being played by John Pinero, an actor from New York, but I didn’t fall for that.  That was Vince up there on stage. I’d know those teeth anywhere.

It was great seeing him again.  I thought Pinero had him down - if you'll pardon the expression - cold.  And, let me tell you something, everybody in that audience felt the same way. 

All three of us.

OK, so the old Packer coach didn’t pack ‘em in.  I think that stinks. You people, you gotta go, go, go!  Drive, drive, drive!  Get your butts in those seats!  Vince Lombardi will not accept this kind of lazy behavior on your part.  If he can be there, so can you.

Don’t forget, as a Packer player once said: “Lombardi had a great threshold for pain. Our injuries never bothered him.” 

I wanted to visit Vince before the game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers.  This is his time of year. 

A week from Wednesday will mark the 30th anniversary of Super Bowl I, which was played right here in Los Angeles on Jan. 15, 1967, and was won by Lombardi’s Packers, 35-10, over the Kansas City Chiefs.  I don’t know if remember this.  Pro football was actually played in Los Angeles: I’m serious.

Like you, I have been enjoying those TV commercials featuring a “coach” with a suspicious resemblance to Vince Lombardi. (That is you, Jerry Stiller, isn’t it?)

Then I heard about “Vince,” the tour de force with Pinero that he co-wrote with Richard Clayman, who directs.

It’s not on Broadway.  It’s not even off-Broadway.  It’s sort of off-Burbank.

Look, I am not a theater critic.  If you asked me who “Frank Rich” was, my guess would be Jim Kelly’s old backup quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.

But I know what I like. I am an inveterate theater-goer.  New York, London, Los Angeles, you name it, I’ve seen it.  (I once saw “The Pirates of Penzance” on stage in Flint, Mich., which beats seeing “The Pirates of Flint” in Penzance, let me tell ya.)

Mark Twain, Truman Capote, Harry Truman, Will Rogers. . . all good subjects for one-man shows.  Vince Lombardi?  Hey, inspired.

Unfortunately, the first review I read of “Vince,” I felt a little put-off.  The critic referred to Benito Mussolini and the Packer coach’s “fascist tendencies.”

Fascist tendencies?  The only tendencies I remember Vince discussing were passing versus running.  I mean, what was this, Vince Lombardi or “The Garden of Finzi-Continis”?

I never heard the Packer coach espouse much philosophy beyond the world of football.  He wasn’t one for quoting Nietzsche.  Believe me, this guy thought Nietzsche was a Packer middle linebacker.

Well, I am happy to report that “Vince,” the play, is devoted to Vince, the coach.  Pinero is Lombardi incarnate.  He made me squirm in my seat.  (Warning: They’re small seats.)  When he addressed Bart Starr, Willie Davis, Jerry Kramer, I looked around to see if they were in the theater.

Pinero re-creates the day Marie Lombardi’s husband became Green Bay’s coach.  (“Green Bay?  It is the end of the Earth!”)  He re-creates the family’s drive in 1959 from New York to Wisconsin, with the kids weeping and the coach trying to tell his wife that it wouldn’t be so bad.  (“Sure, it’s cold!  But it’s a dry cold!”)

I forgot a few things from Vince’s life.  That he was one of Fordham’s “seven blocks of granite.”  That he coached at West Point.  That he took over a Green Bay team that was 1-10-1.  That he won NFL championships in 1961, 1962 and 1965 before there was such a thing as a Super Bowl.

Now, the trophy is named for him.  And now, Green Bay might win it for the first time since Lombardi was coach. 

Go.  Go see the play.  Remember the words of Henry Jordan, the old Packer tackle, who said of Lombardi: “When he tells you sit down, you don’t look for a chair.”

You are never beaten, time just runs out on you. Fatigue makes cowards of us all. Mental toughness is essential to success. Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. I don't give a damn about statistics as long as we win. If you don't think you're a winner, you don't belong here. Confidence is contagious, so is lack of confidence. The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender. The real glory is being knocked to your knees, then coming back. Competition builds stamina, character and aggressiveness. We will play every game to the hilt, with every ounce of fiber in our bodies. Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice, makes perfect. The quality of life is a full measure of your personal commitment to excellence and victory. Leadership is not a quality, but rather a blend of qualities, and each man must develop his own blend to be successful. Success rests not only on ability, but upon commitment, loyalty and pride. Some of us will do our job well, some of us will not, but we will be judged by one thing, the results. If you never settle for anything but your best, you'll be surprised what you can accomplish. Leaders are made, not born, and they are made like everything else is made. They are made by hard effort. Character is the result of two things, mental attitude and the way we spend our time. The will is character in action. The successful man is honest with himself. Our greatest glory is not in falling, but in rising every time we fall. Mental toughness is essential to success. Somewhere deep down there is a burning desire to excel, and if you believe that, then pack your bags and get the hell out of here. Dancing is a contact sport, football is a hitting sport. Leadership should extend further than your company. You can't always be first, but you have to believe you should have been. You are never beaten, time just runs out on you.

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