In a role that might finally give Robert De Niro a chance to summon his inner Raging Bull, the actor has signed on to play Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi. Lombardi will be written by Eric Roth, who wrote the De Niro-directed The Good Shepherd. De Niro and his Tribeca Productions partner Jane Rosenthal will produce alongside ESPN Films, the National Football League and Andell Entertainment. It’s De Niro’s 2nd intriguing deal in the past few days, after Tribeca came on to produce a Midnight Run sequel that will allow De Niro to reprise as Jack Crawford, the ex-cop-turned L.A. bounty hunter.
Lombardi broadens a relationship between ESPN and the National Football League that already includes Monday Night Football. They formed an alliance to make football films they can sell directly to their target audience. Lombardi still needs a director and distributor–I hear the script needs work–but ESPN and the NFL already have a plan to release on the down weekend in January 2012 that falls between the AFC and NFC championships and the Super Bowl. The NFL makes licensing deals on films like The Blind Side and Invincible, but Lombardi is its first production.
Lombardi was a fiery disciplinarian who led a journeyman’s career that seemed to peak when he was offensive line coach of the New York Giants team that lost the 1958 championship game. The drama is structured as a rivalry between Lombardi and his polar opposite, Tom Landry, the defensive coach for that Giants team. While Landry was a cool customer whom other teams courted heavily before he became Dallas Cowboys head coach, Lombardi practically had to beg to run a Packers team so dismal that other team owners wanted to fold the franchise. Lombardi turned the team into perennial winners, and all that stood between him and a record third championship was Landry’s Cowboys. They faced off in the 1967 league championship game, known as the Ice Bowl because it was played 13 below zero temperatures. The film is partly based on Instant Replay, the memoir that Packers lineman Jerry Kramer wrote with Dick Schaap.