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Book Excerpt: How Harrison Ford helped save the Avs



In a followup to the last book excerpt I posted the other day, here is the rest of the story as to how the Avs were able to keep Joe Sakic in a very tumultuous time in 1997. (This, and 98 other chapters of Avs history, can be found in my book “100 Things Avalanche Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die.”)

This one involves Harrison Ford and a blockbuster movie, and how it truly did help keep Sakic with the Avs:

While Ascent Entertainment Group had a nice cash flow from its hotel pay-per-view business in 1997, they knew they’d need to search for other revenue streams before long to still be able to piss in the tall grass with the big dogs of the sports ownership club. Ascent CEO Charlie Lyons had a jones to get into the movie business somehow, and around early 1996 he formed an umbrella movie company named Beacon Pictures, and lo and behold, Beacon was able to line up the financing for a new Harrison Ford star vehicle titled “Air Force One”, a tall tale about the president of the United States being taken hostage on the plane by Russian evildoers.

The film ran up a budget of about $95 million—with Ford’s salary alone at $20 million—before nearing release on July 25, 1997. This had the makings of a possible turkey. Much of the dialogue was just plain cliché, and the stunts were ridiculously unrealistic, such as the president holding on to the rear cargo door of a jet aircraft with one arm, while in flight at 15,000 feet and about 500 mph – something that is not humanly possible. As for the Russian villains, led by English actor Gary Oldman in a not-very-convincing Russian tongue, you could have just stamped “Cold War Stereotype” on all of them and had them not speak at all. Some of the advance reviews from critics were not kind to the film, and Beacon employees braced for the possible ends of their short careers in the movie business.

But, hey, was anyone really going to bet against Harrison Ford? Air Force One became the smash hit of the summer in 1997 and to date has grossed more than $315 million worldwide. When the film opened to then-record weekend box-office numbers, it gave Ascent the financial breathing room it needed. They knew the money would be coming in to cover the contract and then some, and so all true Avalanche fans should always have a copy of “Air Force One” in their DVD library.

Beacon Pictures had two films in the can by the summer of 1997, but originally “Air Force One” was slated for a later fall or Christmas release. The Jessica Lange–Michelle Pfeiffer film “A Thousand Acres” was originally going to go out in the summer. That film turned out to be the real turkey, costing $23 million to make but taking in less than $8 million at the box office. Harrison Ford himself talked Beacon into making it a summer, not winter, release. If “A Thousand Acres” had come out in the summer, the Avs might have had to say good-bye to Sakic. Ascent would have suffered heavy losses on the film and probably would have had to cut the budgets in other areas, and certainly having to come up with a $15 million check would have been more problematic.

Those seven days between the Rangers’ offer and the Avs’ decision day were permeated by great box office numbers for the popcorn action flick, and it gave Lyons the confidence to go ahead and match the deal but also with a little help from Liberty, which received 6 percent equity in the Pepsi Center. When the final decision was made to keep Sakic, the duty of handing over the $15 million cashier’s check was given to Lacroix. He drove over to Sakic’s house and presented it to him in person, probably a little sheepishly.

But it all worked out in the end for all parties. Sakic went on to many great years an an Av, Lacroix won another Cup and a record nine straight division titles and Lyons went on to a successful career more involved in the movie and TV business in Los Angeles.

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