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Jones gets behind the camera for gridiron biopic

Before Tommy Lee Jones reprises his Oscar-winning “Fugitive” role in a spinoff called “U.S. Marshals,” he’ll likely make his feature directing debut at Fox. Jones is in serious talks to direct and play a supporting role in Fox’s “3rd Down and Forever,” the story of former college star and pro football player Joe Don Looney.

Looney was a phenom at the U. of Oklahoma in the early ‘ 60s whose speed and size promised a big pro career. Unfortunately, he was also a rebel with an authority problem. He played with five teams in five seasons, and his career ended suddenly after he refused a coach’s request that he shuttle a play into the quarterback. He told the coach to call Western Union if he wanted a messenger boy.

Looney then served a tour of duty in Vietnam and later lived with a guru in India. He died in a motorcycle accident in 1988 at the age of 45.

The script, by Cyrus Nowrasteh, is based on a book by J. Brent Clark published in 1993. It’s been developed by 1492 Pictures, the partnership between Chris Columbus, Michael Barnathan and Mark Radcliffe, who’ll co-produce with Alan Riche and Tony Ludwig.

Columbus originally wanted to direct it himself before he started “Planet of the Apes,” but he liked the idea of turning it over to Jones, who made his directing debut on “The Good Old Boys” for TNT.

Sources said Jones was drawn to the project because his younger years paralleled those of Looney. Both were Texas-born sons of rigid oil wildcatters, and attended college on football scholarships, with Jones playing ball for Harvard.

Jones would play the role of Looney’s father, with whom Joe Don had a love-hate relationship. If the deal works out, Jones would begin working on the film after he completes “Men in Black” at Columbia. Either “U.S. Marshals” or a straight sequel to “The Fugitive,” both of which are being plotted out by John Pogue, would come after, most likely in 1997. Neither 1492 nor Jones’ International Creative Management agent Michael Black would comment.

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