Eszterhas tackles ‘Ice Bowl’ for ESPN

Scribe sees assignment as part of 'recovery'

NEW YORK — Joe Eszterhas is back.

The screenwriter of “Basic Instinct” and “Flashdance” has signed a deal to pen “The Ice Bowl,” a docudrama on ESPN that will re-create the atmosphere surrounding the celebrated NFL playoff game on Dec. 31, 1967, between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers in which Wisconsin temperatures sunk well below zero.

The game became a part of football lore, in part due to the call of NFL Films’ John Facenda in which he referred to the icy field as “the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.”

“Joe is a huge football fan and a sports history buff,” said Mark Shapiro, exec VP of programming and production for ESPN.

Eszterhas most recently wrote the bestselling book “American Rhapsody” (2000), his riff on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. The most recent movies made from his screenplays were both released in 1997: “Telling Lies in America” and “An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn.”

Eszterhas has gone public with his battle against lung cancer, which turned him into a crusader against cigarette smoking. Although he was unavailable for comment, ESPN quotes him as saying, “I had to change my lifestyle radically during my two-year struggle. I don’t smoke or drink.” He called the assignment by ESPN “part of my recovery.”

Lazarus said Eszterhas has become “passionate” about turning in a script that will capture the period accurately, but “in a provocative way.” Eszterhas has held a number of conversations with Paul Hornung, the star halfback of the Packers in 1967, and Lazarus said ESPN has dispatched a number of staffers to Cleveland, where Eszterhas lives, to work with him on the research.

New Year’s Eve date

When Eszterhas completes the script in the next month or so, Lazarus said ESPN will start talking to directors and actors. ESPN’s goal is to schedule the movie in primetime Dec. 31 in the heat of the NFL playoff season.

“The Ice Bowl” will be ESPN’s third original movie. The first two, which both chalked up big Nielsen ratings, were “A Season on the Brink” (March 2002), with Brian Dennehy as former Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, and “The Junction Boys” (December 2002), starring Tom Berenger as football coach Bear Bryant.

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