By William Shanklin
The word “great” is a recurring exaggeration in the current media age. Athletes, entertainers, and pedestrian successes are so routinely referred to with this superlative that the potency of the word has been diluted.
An illustrious blue-blooded racehorse from Virginia and a famous blue-collar professional football coach from Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay rose to everlasting fame in about the same era and authentically deserve this accolade. That is why there is a statue of Secretariat at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and a sculpture of Vince Lombardi at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
Coincidentally, a movie about Secretariat has been completed and will be released Oct. 8, while a film about Lombardi is in the works and will be ready for the public just prior to the 2012 Super Bowl.
Walt Disney Pictures’ chronicle of Secretariat draws heavily on the biography by William Nack and casts Diane Lane as Penny (Chenery) Tweedy, John Malkovich as Lucien Laurin, jockey Otto Thorwarth as Ron Turcotte, Nelsan Ellis as groom Eddie Sweat, and former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson as Bull Hancock. Others depicted include John Galbreath, Seth Hancock, Robert Kleberg Jr., and Ogden Phipps.
ESPN Films’ Lombardi, the person for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named, will star Academy Award winner Robert De Niro. He was selected because of his facility to capture the “fire, passion, and grit” of Lombardi. The movie begins in 1959, when Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers, then the worst team in the National Football League, and promptly turned the perennial losers into champions.
Secretariat (1970-89) and Lombardi (1913-70) attained a level of performance very few, if any, will equal or surpass. The superlatives that have been used to describe the now almost mythical racehorse and the fabled coach are often interchangeable.
Forty years after his death, Lombardi remains one of the most-quoted individuals of our time about dedication to self-improvement, perseverance in the face of adversity, and winning.
Serial greatness sprang from a remarkable human and a horse, whose inspirational stories will be preserved for posterity by the forthcoming movies.
William Shanklin, a longtime contributor to The Blood-Horse, is the publisher of the Website horseracingbusiness.com