1. Brooklyn-born Vince Lombardi, an assistant coach for the Giants, seems stuck at age 45, and even considers going into banking, when he takes a job coaching the last-place Green Bay Packers in 1959. By 1962, he’s on the cover of Time; in his nine years in Green Bay, the Packers win five NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowls.
2. Lombardi retires in 1968, then coaches the Redskins for a year. Nixon reportedly considers asking him to be his ’68 running mate (turns out he’s a Democrat), and Packers guard Jerry Kramer publishes a memoir, Instant Replay, written with New York contributor Dick Schaap, in 1968. Lombardi dies of cancer in 1970, at 57, and the Super Bowl trophy is named for him.
3. Kramer tries to get a Lombardi film off the ground—with Jack Nicholson!—but is beaten to the screen by a 1973 one-hour TV special, Legend in Granite, starring Ernest Borgnine.
4. Lombardi’s gray-suit mien and scandal-free life is out of style in the seventies and eighties. Michael O’Brien’s biography Vince appears in 1987; it’s tepidly received. By 1999, though, Greatest Generation revisionism has kicked in, and David Maraniss publishes the definitive When Pride Still Mattered.Tony Ponturo, a sports marketer for Anheuser-Busch, takes notice.
5. So does Harvey Weinstein, who makes a play for Kramer’s memoir in 2000, along with director Ted Demme—who dies in 2002, taking the project with him. Another plan fizzles with the 2008 recession. Ponturo leaves his Anheuser-Busch job and reinvents himself as a Broadway producer (Hair, Memphis).
6. Ponturo finds out there’s a Lombardi play out there already, an adaptation of Maraniss’s book by a Wisconsinite named Eric Simonson. Lombardi: The Only Thing includes a dream-sequence poker game between Lombardi and JFK. It’s not good, but Ponturo gives the playwright a shot, telling him to start over: “The left side of the audience is the NFL fan who’s never [been to] Broadway.”
7. The result is Lombardi. In late 2009, In the Heights director Thomas Kail begs to stage it, with The Wonder Years’ Dan Lauria. At the first public reading, NFL representatives tell Ponturo, “That’s Vince Lombardi.” It opens at Circle in the Square on October 21—beating out a 2012 film version (finally) of Kramer’s book, which will star Robert De Niro.