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|10-04-2009, 06:59 AM||#1|
The Virginia Hillbilly
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: Galax Va
Member Number: 3287
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Steelers' New Investors: Thomas Tull; Hollywood comes to the Steelers
Sunday, October 04, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It did not take long for one new Steelers partner to fire a shot over the bow of the Cleveland Browns, Hollywood-style.
Thomas Tull, a lifelong Steelers fan who became a minority owner in the franchise when a restructuring officially closed last week, could not pass a chance to help the home team.
As president and CEO of Legendary Pictures, the young Hollywood movie producer urged one script change that took down Cleveland and the Browns.
"We're developing a script right now," Tull, 39, said from his offices at Warner Brothers Studios in Los Angeles. "I can't get too much into detail, but I will say, with our writer, the setup was in Ohio; the family that's at the center of our story were Browns fans and had a parrot."
Words were scripted for the parrot; he was to talk about the Browns.
"We changed that, for sure," Tull said, almost laughing. "The parrot talked about the Steelers and it was set outside Pittsburgh."
Yes, Tull has that kind of pull. Heard of "Dark Knight"? He was that double-Oscar blockbuster's executive producer, as well as for many other films such as "Superman Returns", "300", the $100 million-budget "Watchmen", "We Are Marshall", the past summer's mega hit film "The Hangover" and more. His company has a 40-picture deal with Warner Brothers.
Steelers Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison and Ryan Clark attended the Watchmen premier in Hollywood at his invitation.
"Two things I love," Tull says, "are Steelers football and movies."
Ahh, a Hollywood love story, and this protagonist does not hide his giddiness at being part of the new ownership group.
"It is beyond my wildest dreams to have an opportunity to do this. I certainly was not looking to make an investment in a sports team or football team, but it's the Pittsburgh Steelers, just beyond my wildest imagination this would ever happen. I was very, very excited to get the phone call from the Rooney family."
He is quick to note he does not want to be called an owner of the Steelers, minority or otherwise.
"There's only one owner of the Steelers, that's Mr. Rooney and his son, Art. I'm just an investor and wanted the team to stay in the same hands and continue the success they've had."
Tull grew up "dirt poor'' in Binghamton, N.Y., and while that city hugs Pennsylvania's northeast border and also has a Point (at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers), it does sit 240 miles in a straight line from Pittsburgh.
New York, Philadelphia and Buffalo are closer, yet none of those cities' football teams was playing in Super Bowl IX when 4 1/2-year-old Thomas Tull plopped himself in front of the TV set in Binghamton to watch.
It was love at first sight.
"That was it," Tull declared. "I remember taking a yellow T-shirt and, with black, writing No. 12 on it. I had yellow wrist bands and I was hooked for life."
How he became so deeply involved in making movies on the other side of the continent was almost as simple. Tull describes himself as a film geek who grew up loving comics and video games. He headed a media entertainment holding company in Atlanta, a job that required him to visit Los Angeles often. One night in L.A. he sat next to a vice chairman of MGM at a dinner party and they chatted about the film business and its challenges.
"I started talking about some things I thought you could do differently with a capital base and private equity," Tull says. "And he said 'Why don't you go do that?' And that was the beginning.
"I was just ignorant enough at the time to think you could actually do this."
One thing led to another, which led to him forming Legendary Pictures and funding $100 million movies for Warner Brothers.
"We've had a string of some great movies we're proud of," Tull says.
But nothing can compare to the phone call he received asking him to be part of the Rooneys' new Steelers team. Tull screened "We Are Marshall" for the Steelers in 2006 and met Dan and Art Rooney and some players and took a tour of the Steelers facility. He was a kid in his favorite candy store and does not hide it.
"I don't often get nervous but I got nervous when I met Mr. Rooney; he's an icon to me," Tull said. "A lot of times when you meet your hero, he doesn't live up to it, but Mr. Rooney was exactly what I thought he was. He's one of the nicest, classiest human beings I ever met in my life."
They kept in touch, and then Thomas Tull was asked to be part of the new partnership Dan and Art Rooney formed.
He joins nine other new Steelers owners and an historical short list of Hollywood ownership in Pittsburgh pro sports teams. The Pirates once had Bing Crosby as a minority owner, and another film producer, Howard Baldwin, owned the Penguins for much of the 1990s.
Tull was not your average fan even before he became a partner in the Steelers. He does not take telephone calls -- you hear that Steven Spielberg? -- during a Steelers game and "since Direct TV came out, I literally have not missed a snap since the early '90s. That's my three hours during the season."
After the Steelers revealed his intention to become a partner in their reorganization, Tull showed up wearing a Jack Lambert jersey in their locker room after their playoff victory over San Diego in January at Heinz Field. A little different for a Steelers owner, mind you, but he always wears his Lambert jersey while watching his favorite football team. Why change now merely because he owns part of the franchise?
"I have a jersey and Terrible Towel, that's my ritual. Plus, we were on a great roll and winning streak. Am I supposed to wear a jacket and tie?"
Tull attended Super Bowl XLIII and the Steelers' victory party afterward and called the game-winning drive "one of the greatest moments of my life."
He has fallen in love with the city of Pittsburgh as well, as has his wife, Alba, and their three children.
While Tull will not involve himself in deciding the direction of the team, he will offer his specialized services if asked, a different twist, if you will, to Hollywood on the Mon.
"I think there are unique opportunities, especially given the Steelers' national appeal and brand," Tull said. "If they ask for anything, I certainly will be there. We've had discussions from everything to an appropriate Web presence and new things you can do to extend the brand and so forth. I'll be as active as I'm asked to be and also happy to let the best ownership group do their own thing."
Fade to black and gold.
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