By Jeff Labrecque
Updated March 10, 2010 at 06:15 PM EST

Image Credit: ylvain Gaboury/PR Photos; Nate Fine/NFL Photos/Getty ImagesESPN knows sports, but their record with sports films is a totally different matter. Beginning with 2002’s A Season on the Brink, they’ve hardly delivered a credible sports film worthy of their place at the top of the sports-entertainment heap. Who can forget Tom Sizemore’s ill-fitting Pete Rose wig in Hustle or Oliver Platt’s oversized harrumphing in The Bronx is Burning? Yesterday, the network announced plans to tackle Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers football coach whose name now graces the Super Bowl trophy, and this time, the network is pulling no punches. For one, the film will be a theatrical release, not a made-for-TV effort. More importantly, they’ve nabbed Robert De Niro to play the iconic coach and hired Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) to write the script.

I’m intrigued, especially if De Niro is motivated. Lombardi, who was renowned for his philosophy on winning in football and in life, is ripe for caricature (as Jerry Stiller once did for a series of Nike commercials). But the role also has the potential to be every bit as deep and intense as Kurt Russell’s winning portrayal of Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks in the otherwise sappy Miracle. Lombardi was ruthless, feared yet beloved by his players. If DeNiro approaches the character like he did Goodfellas’ Jimmy the Gent — instead of some cliche-spouting blowhard — he may deliver something memorable.

But comebacks don’t always have happy endings. Lombardi himself spent his last year coaching the lowly Washington Redskins, and De Niro hasn’t been nominated for an Academy Award since 1992. Wasn’t it Lombardi who said, “Winning is not a sometime thing…it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while…you don’t do the right thing once in a while…you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit.” Let’s hope Lombardi never saw The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle.

As a sport fan, are you excited about the Lombardi film? As a movie fan, do you think De Niro is the right guy at the right time for this role?