Review: "Lombardi"

Reason to watch: Bio of pro football's greatest coach

When/Where: Saturday at 8 p.m. on HBO.

HBO's "Lombardi" is a winner

10. VINCE LOMBARDI Assistant coach, Giants, 1954-58 As

10. VINCE LOMBARDI
Assistant coach, Giants, 1954-58
As the head of the offense for the Giants in the 1950s, he helped establish the prototype for the modern offensive coordinator and helped the NFL take root as the preeminent entity in American sports. The Brooklyn kid also paved the way for his own development as the greatest coach in U.S. pro sports history (.740 winning percentage, 9-1 career mark in postseason, five titles). (Credit: AP)

THE DOCUMENTARY "Lombardi"

WHEN | WHERE Saturday at 8 p.m. on HBO.

REASON TO WATCH Bio of pro football's greatest coach

WHAT IT'S ABOUT "Winning isn't everything - it's the only thing," and it pretty much was the only thing after 1959, when Vince Lombardi (who, of course, said this) arrived as head coach in Green Bay, Wis., leading the Packers to championships in 1961, '62 and '65, and wins in the first two Super Bowls (1967 and '68). This documentary follows Lombardi from his days as a successful high school football coach at St. Cecilia's in New Jersey, through the glory years in Wisconsin. He died from colon cancer in 1970 at age 57.

That distinctive Lombardi winning credo is explored in some detail - along with the toll this obsession took on his family, particularly his wife, Marie. As his spectacular quarterback Bart Starr explains here, Lombardi told the team that "we are going to relentlessly chase perfection because, in the process, we'll catch excellence."

MY SAY There are some people who actually think winning isn't everything, and it is glaringly obvious that those people are not football fans. Winning absolutely is everything in professional football, and it was the single-minded dedication to this principle that has kept the name Lombardi so firmly affixed to the popular imagination.

But the problem with pithy, powerful and rather forbidding catchphrases is that they tend to obscure the humanity of the person who said them. A current Broadway production starring Dan Lauria - based on a biography by David Maraniss (who's interviewed here) - attempts to redress that and so, too, does this program. Lombardi was an intensely observant Catholic, dedicated (if distant) husband and father, and a deeply, unapologetically emotional man. Tears flowed when he couldn't stop them. Rebukes were followed by praise that must have felt like the full power of the sun to the recipient. Lombardi's family and team loved him more than they feared him, and were inspired by his allegiance to the basics, his basics - hard work, loyalty, dedication. Maybe Lombardi has a little something to say to all of us.

BOTTOM LINE Best here are reminiscences by Lombardi's children, Susan and Vincent Jr. They've made this documentary a winner, as Dad would have fully expected them to.

GRADE A

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