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Familiar Name, Brand New Game

Paul Pelosi, Husband of House Speaker, Takes His Shot at Football

"I understand, of course, that since a woman has had such a phenomenal success [people wonder], 'Who is this guy she's married to for 47 years and has five kids?' I understand the curiosity about that. But it's her celebrity," businessman Paul Pelosi says of his more famous wife, Nancy. (By Harry Hamburg -- Associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 17, 2009

LAS VEGAS -- Through a fading desert evening late last week, the owner of the California Redwoods football team stepped into the lights of Sam Boyd Stadium for a celebratory coin toss that would be the first official act of the United Football League. He tried to blend in with the other league executives gathered around the field's center, just as he has for the past two decades, always careful never to draw too much notice.

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Until the stadium announcer called his name. And Paul Pelosi was anonymous no more.

He has worked hard to avoid such moments, to stand in the shadows, since his more famous wife, Nancy, first went to Congress in 1987 and then rose to become the first female speaker of the House in 2007. He knew the fortune he amassed as an investor and developer in San Francisco -- estimated through her 2008 financial disclosure filings to range from $24 million to $108 million -- would be a distraction.

And then with a single investment in his friend Bill Hambrecht's longtime dream of a second professional football league to challenge the NFL, the curtain had been pulled away. Although he is not a big sports fan, Pelosi paid $12 million for the franchise for the same reason he has made countless other investments over the years: He felt it could bring him a nice return.

"This is a business, I look at it as a business," he said. "I'm in this because I think it is a very solid financial investment that is going to be very successful."

Even so, for a spouse whose forays into public life have largely been limited to the occasional fundraising dinner or political event for his wife, the glare of the spotlight that comes with ownership of a sports franchise was an uncharacteristic move.

"He could do hundreds of deals for a lot more money and do them anonymously," said Michael Huyghue, the UFL's commissioner. "But this is the one with the klieg lights."

It has always been such a careful dance for Pelosi, this balance of his business life with that of his wife's political career. People, he said, are always trying to link the two. He joked that it is only at his alma mater, Georgetown, where he now chairs the Foreign Service Board, that he is not known as "Mr. Nancy."

"I understand, of course, that since a woman has had such a phenomenal success [people wonder], 'Who is this guy she's married to for 47 years and has five kids?' " he said. "I understand the curiosity about that. But it's her celebrity. It's her career. It's her responsibility. I'm enormously supportive and proud about it but I see absolutely no percentage in trying to share the limelight."

He complained in a voice that sounds, ironically, a lot like that of NBC Sports announcer Al Michaels that people have scoured his investments in everything from real estate to a California vineyard, looking for potential conflicts of interest. And over the years, there have been minor controversies that he has always resolved by selling the troublesome entity. He said he understood the scrutiny, and that he has worked constantly to make sure his business life never intruded on his wife's political ambitions.

"There's a uniqueness of the fact there's a female, so they want to know who the male is," he said. It was best, he added, to disappear from view as much as he could.

It is odd that he has finally chosen to thrust himself in the spotlight for football. He has tickets to San Francisco 49ers games and owns the jersey that the Frankie Albert, the team's star quarterback in the late 1940s wore for his last game, but other than a small investment with Hambrecht in the Oakland Invaders of the defunct United States Football League in the early 1980s, he never had much interest in professional sports.


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