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La-La Land of the Giants

New York co-owner Steve Tisch bridges Hollywood and the NFL, and he's not alone on this coast

January 19, 2008|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

I should have listened to my wife. She told me to wash my car. But I'd been on the road just about every weekend for three months, covering NFL games, and a carwash didn't register on my list of priorities.

So the other day I wheezed up to the Beverly Hills Hotel in my one-headlight Volvo that's covered in dust and bird droppings, and filled with old newspapers, water bottles, my son's basketball, and -- disturbingly -- my daughter's collection of stripped-bare Barbie dolls.

I've come for breakfast at the posh Polo Lounge with Steve Tisch, co-owner of the New York Giants. He's an Oscar-winning movie mogul who produced "Forrest Gump," "Risky Business," and some other hits.

Los Angeles hasn't had an NFL team for almost 13 years, but I'm researching whether the Giants are now Hollywood's team, seeing as they're owned by an L.A. guy and they've made it to the NFC championship game at Green Bay on Sunday.

Steve's friendly and very casual, so I'm only slightly alarmed to find he is there to meet me as I roll up to the valet. I'm embarrassed and apologize for my filthy car.

"That's OK," Steve says. "I kind of like that."

Somehow, I believe him. Maybe it's that he's unshaven and wearing old jeans and a faded Giants T-shirt, making me feel overdressed in my khaki slacks and golf shirt.

On the drive over Coldwater Canyon, I'd eaten a banana. The peel is on the passenger seat. I grab it as I climb out but there's no trash can in sight. So, flustered, I stuff it in the front pocket of my pants with one hand as I shake Steve's hand with the other.

When we walk into the hotel, everybody knows Steve, from the doorman to the restaurant hostess to the patrons. Everyone calls him by his first name, and he knows theirs.

The moment we walk into the lounge, two heavy hitters call us to their table -- Activision chairman Bobby Kotic, whose video game company has "Call of Duty" and "Guitar Hero," and Alan Grubman, an entertainment lawyer who represents Madonna, Elton John, Jennifer Lopez and many others. The men are huge Giants fans, and want to pore over the details of last Sunday's upset of the Dallas Cowboys.

Kotic says there's a big group of Giants supporters in L.A., many of them transplanted New Yorkers, who are "re-energized" by the emergence of quarterback Eli Manning and the team's nine consecutive road victories. That Steve is a co-owner makes it even more special, he says.

As I'm furiously scribbling notes, I notice a corner of the moist banana peel is peeking out of my pocket. Terrific. I excuse myself to throw it away.

When I return, Steve is sitting alone at a table. I've asked him to compile a list of Giants fans in the entertainment industry, people I can call to ask about their passion for the team.

The list is long and includes power brokers Harvey Weinstein, Brian Grazer and Les Moonves; producer Bernie Brillstein, whose credits include "Ghostbusters" and "Just Shoot Me!"; Peter Berg, who directed "Friday Night Lights"; and actors such as Denzel Washington, Josh Duhamel and Tom Arnold.

"Some of them know every fact about every game, all the statistics," Steve says. "They can tell you where Andy Robustelli played high school football. Then there's some people you're going to speak to who two years ago weren't sure what the letters N-F-L stood for. I'm serious."

He points out a direct Hollywood link: actress Kate Mara is the great-granddaughter of Giants founder Tim Mara, and the team is now owned by the Mara and Tisch families. What's more, Kate's mother is a member of the Rooney family, which owns the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As Steve is going over all this, a steady stream of well-wishers stop by the table, all of them saying they're pulling for the Giants. The Polo Lounge is starting to feel like the Polo Grounds.

I'm beginning to think the Giants are truly Hollywood's team -- but later I'll get a reminder that's not necessarily the case.

Jim Wiatt comes over and joins us. He's chief executive of the William Morris Agency and Steve's longtime pal, one of countless friends who have sat with him in the owners' suite during a game.

"The other day after the game a bunch of us are e-mailing each other, 'Did you see Steve on TV hugging Eli Manning?' " Wiatt says. "It's just really exciting for people who know him.

"As I've told Steve: I inherited bunions, and he got the Giants."

Ever since the Giants beat the Cowboys, Steve's Blackberry has been buzzing with messages. When his jet landed in L.A. on Sunday night, there were more than 100 new e-mails awaiting him. Some were from friends who are Giants fans, some from people who just know what the team means to him, and, undoubtedly, some from those trying to nuzzle up to him, maybe for a part in one of the three upcoming movies he's producing.

One of the notes came from Richard Lovett, president of Creative Artists Agency, a fervent Green Bay fan.

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