A freak injury leads to a magical football season for this out Disney exec

By Rich Ross

Editor's note: I met Rich Ross in 1997 when I was working at Disney Channel. From the day I met him, he became a mentor and a friend, helping guide me along many major decisions in my life and opening some incredible doors for me. I can never repay him or his partner in crime at Disney Channel, Gary Marsh, for everything they did for me. Rich was recently named by Out magazine the 14th most powerful gay person in America (just behind Jodie Foster and just ahead of MTV's Brian Graden). It's easy to see why. As the President of Disney Channels Worldwide, he has been a big part of the team that has launched the careers of NSYNC, Hillary Duff and Zac Efron, to name just a very few. He is also a wonderful, charming guy and is the partner of a triathlete we profiled in 2005.
Reading a story like Rich's, of someone I care very much about experiencing such joy in sports, definitely takes much (thought not all) of the sting of the Patriots' loss that Super Bowl night . So I'm very proud that Rich's story is our second in our great new series of prominent gay people and their love of sports. -Cyd Zeigler jr.

Autumn means one thing to most of America, and that one thing is football. I said most of America. For me the fall is a chance to take the sweaters out of mothballs, and not to sit in front of the TV for hours on end watching college and pro football; Until last year.

I certainly grew up a big football fan. Watching the Giants and the Jets play on TV is a wonderful memory of time spent with my dad that I will cherish forever. And going to games was an absolute thrill (and a chill, growing up in New York). I knew all the players. I knew all the stats. And those lats; well, that story would come later.

This past fall, life took a back-to-the-future twist. I found out that I had a degenerative tendon in my ankle that was tearing and needed to be repaired. I went to two surgeons for their advice. One told me that my condition was rare, as it was generally found in old fat women. Needless to say his bedside manner was practically Kevorkian-esque for a he-man like me. My other surgeon was named the winner by reputation and by default. I had to face the facts: No activities; No running; No yoga. And for an Angeleno who was having surgery on his right foot, it was the kiss of death: No driving!

Post-surgery, I found myself for the first time at home with a cast and crutches, wondering what to do with two full days of the weekend. People here in Hollywood told me that this was the time to catch up on all my Tivo or watch those movies on DVD that I had never had time to watch. And I suppose that was my initial intention. Instead, I found salvation that first Saturday when I turned on my first college football game in about 20 years. I am a University of Pennsylvania grad and we had football – or something like football – when I was there. But these guys on my new big screen TV, while most of them maybe not Rhodes scholars, certainly could rush and score faster than...you fill in that blank. I thought lying there in bed that I would catch a little of the action and then surf to another channel. But something absolutely hypnotized me. I had forgotten that college football had all the drama that comes with best intentions and often the best training but also with numerous mistakes on the field. While getting up was a challenge I realized that the day had scooted by and I had watched games from East to West.

Even more surprising was, when Sunday came, I hunkered down and watched all four broadcast games, switching channels during the two afternoon games, late into the L.A. night (that would be 9pm). I even found myself watching intently as the latest college basketball top 20 was announced. Uh-oh.

I watched games relentlessly. I was not that picky. I found favorite teams like the Hawaii Warriors (go Colt!) and the Michigan Wolverines. On Sundays I started to find all those Giants games. Of course watching my old home team win (and even blow some big games) was so exciting.

At this point my partner became alarmed. Screams were coming out of our TV room that seemed inhuman. I not only found teams to root for but also teams to root against. I became very anti-Cowboys (as any good Giants fan would). While I have worked with Jessica Simpson in my career, it was not me who sent her as a curse to that game that clearly became a turning point for the smitten-Romo-led Cowboys. Or at least, I won't admit it. I did also catch the weekly Patriots game as they pummeled their way through the league.

I followed the Giants throughout the rest of their season and then through the playoffs. I finally got off my cast, off my crutches and started to walk again. While I was healing physically, this football thing was not going away. I even started to travel again. I held my trusty Blackberry close as espn.com could deliver those football-fact fixes at the touch of a button.

Of course, I’ll never forget that Super Bowl Sunday. I got my taco chips ready. I got my beer ready. I was just damn ready! What an amazing game that night. I sat there thinking that this rollercoaster ride that the Giants were on had to end. But when they were still in it at halftime, it was hard not to get excited about the glimmer of a Super Bowl championship.

Fox showed Peyton Manning in the luxury box almost more than his hard-working brother Eli, which only underscored what an underdog little bro he was. The game seemed over so many times. Brady couldn't lose. Brady had the gift, the arm, the team, the endorsements and the supermodel girlfriend. But the day was not going well and even Giselle looked concerned. The contest seemed to continue hours beyond its scheduled (and seemingly scripted) end. The Giants just kept coming back. I drained the beer, the taco chips and almost all my energy. But I watched that TV that night waiting for the impossible. And then the impossible happened. Brady wasn't perfect; and while Manning wasn’t either, he was the king that day. What a story. I just remember after the game was over saying out loud "sports is the best drama there is". For me, it is; and for someone who has developed scripted and reality television for most of his adult life, that’s saying something. The capper was getting a call from my dad from New York as together we recapped and screamed and recapped and screamed some more.

Now it is almost summer. My tendon is healed. I did miss the entire college (Kansas won, right?) and most of the pro basketball season (though I do see the Lakers flags going up now across the city). I have been using my TV responsibly as an adult. I root for top chefs and even wannabe supermodels (Ronnie could have been a contender). But I know in a few short months the guys will back in town and I will be yelling my head off. I can't wait.

You can reach Rich Ross via email.

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