We love to think of the Green Bay Packers as America’s team (suck it, Dallas), but it becomes clearer and clearer that the Pack may actually be the world’s team when it comes to American football.
In spring, I saw a guy clad in green and gold atop the Great Wall of China and, now, a friend in Italy, Fausto Batella, has penned a book about Packers legend Vince Lombardi (fun fact: Lombardi was born around the corner from me. Or vice versa since he was already in Green Bay when I emerged).
The slim volume, called "Il Vincente" – a play on the Italian spelling of Vincent and "vincente," which means "winning" – is in Italian, of course, having been published in Italy in spring by Campi di Carta.
The book – one of numerous that Batella has written about football – offers a brief bio of the most storied coach in all of football, perhaps in all of American sport, and also explores the the Umbria's Vince Lombardi Stadium, which is legendary in the world of "Spaghetti football" – American football in Italy, that is. There are numerous illustrations, too.
With apologies to Fausto for the translation, here’s our recent chat about Lombardi, his book. Collectors can order a copy from Italian sites like ibs.it, though Amazon carries the Kindle edition, if you just want to try your hand at reading it.
OnMilwaukee.com: How does an Italian become so enamored of American football?
Fausto Batella: I discovered football in the ‘70s thanks to some used illustrated books published in the USA. Then, as chance would have it, in 1980 there was a "field of dreams" – the mythical Stadio Vince Lombardi – built a few miles from my home. I was a player and then I wrote more than 10 books about football, with a focus on Italian-Americans.
OMC: Do you have a favorite team?
FB: The Green Bay Packers, naturally. I have books, old VHS videos, DVD and I follow them on the internet and sometimes on TV. In Italy, six NFL games are broadcast each week, along with the postseason.
OMC: Tell me a bit about the status of American football in Italy these days. Are there still active teams and fans who follow them?
FB: Unfortunately, here football is a minor sport. Things were better in the middle of the 1980s. Now the situation is improving. There is an elite league of 12 teams (Italian Football League) with some American players with Division I college football experience. Then there are minor leagues ... maybe 100 active teams, all amateur.
OMC: Is there a special affection for Lombardi among Italian fans, especially because he was an Italian-American?
FB: Yes, also for this (his ethnicity), but also for the important history, the prestigious victories, the celebrated quotes. And also for the stadium in Umbria dedicated to him. The first in Europe that wasn’t on a NATO base, it helped get Vince Lombardi’s name in the national press and on television in the 1980s and ‘90s.
I remember that a journalist from Pro! (the then-official NFL magazine) came to Italy in 1981 to write an article about it. The cover and the article are reproduced in my book.
OMC: Tell us a bit about "Il Vincente."
FB: The book is divided into two parts. The first, "The Man of the Super Bowl," tells the story of Lombardi’s parents, the salient moments of his career as a player and then as a coach, underlining, beyond the numbers, his innovative approach to the organization of the game and motivating players. Things well-known in the United States but unknown to most Italians.
OMC: What is "Spaghetti Football"?
FB: In the second part, "Spaghetti Football" – intended affectionately, not disparagingly – I tell the story of the stadium named for Lombardi, built in the Umbrian countryside after a series of curious circumstances. The stadium hosted the first Italian championship in 1980 and the first European Championship of American Football in 1983.
OMC: Have you ever been to Green Bay to see a game?
FB: No, I’ve never been to Green Bay.
OMC: When are you coming?
FB: I would happily come to share the American version of "Spaghetti Football"!
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.