While Dan Lauria may be best known as the father on The Wonder Years sitcom that ran from 1988-1993, he was also a former middle linebacker at Southern Connecticut State University, and is tapping into his sports background as the manager of the fictional version of the San Diego Padres on the new show Pitch.
This comes on the heels of a very busy few years for Lauria, who was recently awarded the NFF Casey-O’Brien/New Haven (Conn.) Chapter’s (led by chapter president, Bill O’Brien) Distinguished American Award.
Prior to Pitch he was starring in an Off-Broadway play that he created entitled Dinner With The Boys. Football was what inspired Lauria to work hard in school because he knew that he had to get good grades to keep playing.
“For the first time in my life, I started reading and I did very well in school after that. If it wasn’t for football I wouldn’t have ever tried,” Lauria says.
Lauria’s acting career started on the football field, too. One day, as he was telling a joke before practice, a teacher tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he wanted to be in a play.
“I said ‘I’ve always wanted to try that.’ And she said ‘I know.’ And I said ‘How did you know that?’ and she said, ‘Because I’m the greatest acting teacher in the world.’ And she was,” recalls Lauria.
That woman was Constance Welch, the creator of the Acting department at the Yale School of Drama. She cast Lauria in the student production of 1,000 Clowns and then her own production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Lauria was hooked on acting, but the work ethic he learned in football is what made him the star he became.
“I thought my father would hate the idea of me being an actor and after he saw my first play he said ‘If you work as hard in this as you did in football then you’ll be ok,” says Lauria.
When it comes to the theater, Lauria is well-known for his portrayal of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi in Lombardi.
“For an old jock like me, that was heaven,” says Lauria, whose career goal before acting was to coach football.
His newest play Dinner With The Boys was written as a response to the problem he saw with violence in video games being played by young people. Lauria believes that young people would benefit much more from participating in team sports like football instead of staying inside consuming violence from the media.
“When you’re playing football, it’s a matter of not letting your teammates down. I was a middle linebacker, if it wasn’t for my two defensive tackles I wouldn’t have made All-Conference,” says Lauria. “In football you don’t get points for doing something mean. You make a good hit and even the opponent usually gets up and says, ‘Way to go.’”
He stresses the importance of the team element of football. He says that when someone consumes violence from a video game or from a movie, it’s in isolation. With football, it’s about supporting your teammates.
Lauria’s best advice for young actors and people in general is a lesson he learned from football: take everything one play at a time.
“When I’m on an audition I’m not thinking about the other guys in the room or my last job or the next job. I think about acting for that five minutes,” says Lauria. “If you stop thinking about the wins and losses and you concentrate on the very next play, when it’s all over I think the wins are going to outweigh the losses.”
Pitch airs Thursday nights on Fox and is available on FoxNow.