How TV sports became the main event for Patrick O’Neal, with his dad Ryan’s influence

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Daily News Staff photo by Michael Owen Baker

It’s not an act when Patrick O’Neal describes his role these days as the primary host for Dodgers, Lakers and Kings telecasts on Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket.

“It’s a dream job,” he said the other morning, sitting at an eatery at the Grove complex near Farmer’s Market. “I am lucky, no question. I appreciate what everyone does to make it all work — the producers, the guys in truck, editing video.

“I get to work with Bob Miller, take bus rides to games with Vin Scully. I give a fist pump to the Chick Hearn statue every day I go to work at Staples Center.

“It’s so cool. Seriously, I want to stay on this wave as long as possible.”

O’Neal may have an even greater appreciation for his role because of the road he took to find his passion, years after he discovered he didn’t have the nerve to pursue his first career – acting.

That Hollywood track would have seemed far more likely, considering his lineage.

Although it was a subject he didn’t really want to broach much during the earlier years of his sportscasting career, O’Neal is much more candid now about being one of four who call Academy Award-nominated actor Ryan O’Neal his dad. Patrick spent regular weekends and lived fulltime as a teenager with him at his Malibu house, including when Farrah Fawcett was there.

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Patrick’s mother, Emmy-Award winning actress Leigh Taylor-Young, met Ryan on the Fox lot set of the TV series “Peyton Place” more than 40 years ago before they married. That’s the same place where Patrick got his first sports broadcasting job years later.

(Photo, left, of Patrick O’Neal with his parents, from www.lty.com)

The O’Neal family tree, of course, includes his older half-sister and Academy Award-winner Tatum, once married to former tennis star John McEnroe. Patrick is also the father of two daughters, 14-year-old Sophia and 10-year-old Veronica from his relationship with actress Rebecca De Mornay.

As much as there often seems to be O’Neals in the news — Ryan and Tatum did a reality-TV show last summer on the Oprah Winfrey Network that focused on them patching up their relationship – Patrick is the one cultivating the sports news on a nightly basis.

“My passion was always sports, and I owe a lot of that to my dad,” said Patrick of Ryan, who grew up as a Golden Gloves boxer and once co-managed the career of prizefighter Hedgemon Lewis in the 1970s. “We’d watch thousands of games together. There was never any bedtime. Stay up and watch the Kings, Lakers, whatever was on.

“Our bond was always sports. Without that, there’s no way I’m able to do this.”

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Aside from being “very proud” of his son’s career, Ryan O’Neal said the one thing that impresses him most about Patrick’s TV work is that “he’s iron. You never see his nerves. He’s never caught short. He looks like he’s been doing this all his life. I’m very impressed, really.”

Ryan says “Patrick just shrugs” when asked at how he’s able to know so much information about all the sports teams in town.

“It’s just easy for him,” said Ryan. “He sure makes it look easy.”

Patrick credits his professional work ethic to his father, who, despite just turning 70 and having two knee replacements, often calls him for a paddle-tennis challenge.

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“I just read the Jerry Kramer book, ‘Instant Replay,’ where he talks about how it might have been difficult to play for Vince Lombardi (with the Green Bay Packers), but he loved the guy like a father and all they did was win championships,” said Patrick. “My dad always pushed me athletically. We’d work out non-stop. Sometimes it might be hard, but he always wanted to win.

“I never got caught up in (any kind of Hollywood-type lifestyle). I loved sports and I love my dad. He’s totally my hero.”

The 44-year-old Patrick calls his upbringing “awesome,” a stable childhood shared with divorced parents who always had celebrity friends in their midst, especially for Monday Night Football parties.

After attending high school in Pebble Beach, where he was intrigued by working at a 50,000-watt student-run radio station, Patrick had enough of an interest in communications that he studied it for two years at the University of La Verne, with intentions of transferring to USC. But wanting to give acting a try, he was diverted, and landed movie and TV parts on “Beverly Hills 90210,” “China Beach” and “Die Hard II.”

But after a time, the grind of it all wore him down.

“My batting average as an actor is .025,” laughed O’Neal. ” I always knew I wasn’t getting the job when I saw Brad Pitt (at the casting call), and I’d talk myself out of a lot of rolls that way.”

His last audition was in the late 1990s for the Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg HBO movie “Band Of Brothers,” a spot he thought was a sure thing.

It wasn’t.

“Now I’ll see Tom Hanks at a Laker game and thank him for not giving me the part,” said O’Neal.

Within six months of that last rejection, O’Neal gladly took a midnight-to-5 a.m. update anchor shift at the Fox Sports Radio studios in Sherman Oaks. That evolved into a talk show. Which got him more local TV anchor work at FSW.

Some 12 years later, he hasn’t had to look back.

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Daily News Staff Photo by Michael Owen Baker
Patrick O’Neal, left, works with Norm Nixon and Kiki Vandeweghe before a recent Lakers telecast for FSW.

“Having roots here and growing up as a diehard L.A. sports fan, Patrick is incredibly well versed on the teams we cover and has cultivated longstanding relationships amongst those organizations, said Tom Feuer, the executive producer of FSW/Prime Ticket. “He continues to work hard at his craft and his preparation for each and every event is unsurpassed.”

Kings analyst Jim Fox has been impressed how O’Neal has come a long way to where, “in all honesty, he’s the smoothest guy on the broadcast.

“From my perspective, I can’t thank him enough. He’s got a lot of information, but he often takes a back seat to feature the analyst. He sees the big picture of the broadcast. I like to defer to him now. He’s more than just a set-up guy. I trust him a lot. He’s really part of the team.”

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O’Neal said he doesn’t think “most people even know or care” about his family’s background, as long as he remains a credible, reliable reporter on the games they’re watching.

The irony would be if some casting director now wanted to hire him to play the role of a TV sports reporter.

“I’ll bet you that doesn’t happen,” O’Neal said, laughing. “I know I could do it. But I’m not your typical looking sportscaster, the guy with the perfect hair, standing there. They won’t even hire me for that.”

UPDATED FRIDAY:The list of the Top 10/Bottom 5 Los Angeles TV sports anchor/reporters:
http://www.dailynews.com/sportscolumnists/ci_19780654

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  • Maria Stringer

    I am so glad that one of Ryan’s brood stayed away from drugs and alcohol. He has been a terrible father to the other three. Patrick’s Mother has been the stabilizing force in his life.