The more Don Farrell read about legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, the more intrigued he was.
Farrell portrays the coaching legend in the title role of “Lombardi” in Actors Theatre of Indiana’s production of the play from Oct. 29 to Nov. 21 at the Studio Theater at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. The play by Eric Simonson is based on David Maraniss’ book, “When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi.”
“Being a strong leader is a lot of what our nation is looking for, not just immediately, but for a while now,” Farrell said. “It harkens back to when leaders were real leaders. It was about winning, and he had one hell of a track record. But it was instilling the mentorship. The more I learn about him, the more I’m inspired by him and intrigued by him, too. He’s not a perfect guy. There is no such thing as perfection. You can strive and try to achieve perfection, and through that you’ll achieve excellence.
“There’s a lot of lessons he applies to the game of football that you can apply to life.”
Lombardi, who died in 1970 at age 57, was coach of the Packers from 1959 to 1967. His teams won the first two Super Bowls. He also coached the Washington Redskins in 1969.
“We want to be inspired by our leaders,” said Farrell, one of ATI’s co-founders. “We want to push to greatness and surprise ourselves with being able to overcome obstacles. But, yeah, you can. It’s a mindset.”
Farrell said he loves Lombardi’s sayings, such as, “Leaders are not born, they are made.”
“He was one of the major players in bringing more integration into the league in the 1960s,” Farrell said. “It’s touched on in the play that all the players had to stay in the same hotel.”
Lombardi would not stay anywhere that didn’t allow Black players.
“His idea was, we are all a family here,” Farrell said. “He never saw his players as black or white, he saw them as Packers green. It was always about winning. It’s not about figuring out ways to divide us, it’s about bringing us together. There’s so much division out there.”
Joel Ashur portrays Packers linebacker Dave Robinson.
“It’s amazing to play a real person. I think that’s something everyone is enjoying,” Ashur said. “To represent someone that is real and still alive, there is a certain gravitas to it. I even watched his Robinson Hall of Fame speech. It’s inspiring. I think their relationship is one of a hard coach with a player who wants to raise his game to the next level. Coach Lombardi made room for African American players on his team to be treated fairly. It’s cool to hear there was community on that team.”
Christian Condra plays running back Paul Hornung, who died at age 84 in 2020. Condra said he knew absolutely nothing about Lombardi or Hornung when he saw the auditions.
“I saw a video documentary (on Hornung). I felt like we had a lot of similarities, so I’ll just use that,” Condra said. “Paul was a very charismatic and confident guy, but he also has a lot of heart.”
Mat Leonard is cast as Packers fullback Jim Taylor.
“They were both perfectionists in their own way,” Leonard said. “Which is often the case when you have two people who really believe they know the right way to do things, they have a mutual respect for one another, but they definitely clash.”
Adam LaSalle, who plays magazine writer Michael McCormick, the only fictional character, said he was wrong in his initial assumption that the play was just about football.
“It’s far from a show just for football fans,” LaSalle said. “Michael tries to make sense of how this legend of a man does what he did How did he encourage and inspire a nation?”
ATI co-founder Judy Fitzgerald plays Lombardi’s wife, Marie, in the six-person play.
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