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20th wins scrimmage for football tome

Fox tackles 'Blind Side'

Twentieth Century Fox has won movie rights to Michael Lewis’ latest book, “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game,” a look at the race for ever-bigger players in professional football, in a heated bidding war that pushed the price past seven figures.

Book follows Lewis’ bestselling baseball tome, “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.”

After interest from multiple buyers, which included New Line and Mandalay, the “Blind Side” deal closed for $200,000 against $1.5 million and also includes $250,000 in deferred compensation. Gil Netter will produce for Fox, which did not confirm the value of the deal.

Norton released the book yesterday, but Hollywood interest was sparked when the New York Times Magazine ran an excerpt in its Sept. 24 issue.

Story, which was titled “The Ballad of Big Mike,” centered on Michael Oher, a poor, undereducated 344-pound African-American teenager in Memphis, whose father was murdered and whose mother was a crack addict. Oher had been shuffled through the public school system, despite his 0.6 grade point average and missing weeks of classes each year. But his tremendous size and quickness attracted the interest of a wealthy white couple who took him in and groomed him both athletically and academically to become one of the top high school football prospects in the country.

Oher is now a freshman at Ole Miss, where he starts at left tackle. Tome’s title “Blind Side” is taken from the left tackle’s special on-field role of protecting the quarterback’s blind side from oncoming defensive players.

Lewis notes the importance of the ever-larger players who fill that position has made NFL left tackles, who on average receive $5.5 million a year, “the second-highest-paid position on the team, after the quarterback.”

Deal is the second Lewis has struck at Fox. In 1998, Peter Rice commissioned him to write a script set in Silicon Valley, and the author was recently tapped by News Corp. to speak at its corporate conclave in Pebble Beach this past summer.

“I’m delighted to be in their hands, because I know some of the people there,” he said.

While many of Lewis’ books have been optioned through the years — Warner Bros. owns rights to his breakthrough Wall Street trader yarn “Liars’ Poker” but it is not in active development — none of them have reached production. Columbia is still developing an adaptation of “Moneyball” with Mike De Luca producing.

But Lewis said his hopes are higher with “Blind Side.”

“The main through-story is the collision between this destitute 16-year-old black kid and this evangelical rich white couple,” he said. “Of all the books I’ve written, this is by far the most likely to be made into a movie.”

Lewis’ other Hollywood projects include, in 2003, developing a pitch called “Bit Players” with Scott Rosenberg, about Wall Street hustlers swindling a small town, which Universal acquired.

Credits for Netter, who is a partner with David Zucker in Fox-based Zucker/Netter Prods., include “Fever Pitch” and “Phone Booth” and the upcoming “Flicka” for Fox.

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