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De Niro signs up to play football icon Lombardi

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He has played killers and cops in the movies, and two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro may soon take on the role of iconic U.S. football coach Vince Lombardi in a film backed by sports television network ESPN.

The cable TV network's division, ESPN Films, said it signed De Niro to portray Lombardi as he took the Green Bay Packers from worst to first in the National Football League.

Eric Roth ("Forrest Gump") has been hired to work on a screenplay starting in 1959 when Lombardi was given his first chance to be an NFL coach by taking over the lowly Packers.

Over the years, the coach's hard-nosed approach helped lead the team to three straight NFL championships and victories in the first two Super Bowls. The Packers dominated football throughout much of 1960s.

Lombardi died in 1970 at age 57, and since 1971, the trophy awarded to the Super Bowl winner has been named the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

ESPN said current plans call for the movie to be released around the professional football championship games in 2012.

(Reporting by Bob Tourtelotte; Editing by Dean Goodman)

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