Three years after an ESPN documentary helped land Fritz Pollard in the NFL Hall of Fame, there’s word a feature version of the gutsy gridiron giant’s life story may be in the works.
Reality maven Bruce Nash, who teamed up with John Moffet to produce the doc, is in the process of pitching a feature take on the life of the man some call the Jackie Robinson of football. Nash has been making a concerted push into features, most recently selling Revolution the baseball-themed pitch “To Wally Ward” (Daily Variety, Jan. 7).
Pollard, a Brown U. pigskin star who went on to play for the Akron Pros starting in 1919, was one of the first two African-American members of the AFL (which would later become the NFL). The first black man to play in the Rose Bowl, he’d also go on to become the first black coach of a pro team.
His struggles and achievements in the face of blatant racism weren’t widely known, a fact that led Nash and Moffet to team with then-Miramax TV topper Billy Campbell for the 2002 ESPN doc.
ESPN senior VP of programming strategy Len DeLuca, who was key in greenlighting the pic, can’t say for sure if the film led to Pollard’s election to the Hall of Fame — though given the reach of the all-sports cabler, it’s not much of a leap.
Still, “I was pleased when I heard about it,” DeLuca told Daily Variety. “It’s a remarkable story of this man who went through hell personally and professionally.”
While the documentary was successful for ESPN, Nash believes Pollard’s story would gain even greater exposure as a feature. To that end, the producer has for several years maintained an option on the rights to the 1992 book “Fritz Pollard: Pioneer in Racial Advancement.”
“They would hold his head in the mud after they tackled him,” Nash said. “They wanted to break his bones. The white fans would sing ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ to him.”
DeLuca said ESPN is already talking about reairing the documentary on one of its channels in conjunction with the NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony in August.