Leigh Steinberg is known as one of the greatest sports agents in history, representing Hall of Fame players such as Steve Young, Warren Moon, Troy Aikman and Bruce Smith. During one particular seven-year stretch, Steinberg represented the top NFL draft pick six times. Director Cameron Crowe credits Steinberg as a primary inspiration for the titular character in Jerry Maguire, even hiring Steinberg as a consultant on the film. In this excerpt of The Agent: My 40-Year Career Making Deals And Changing The Game Steinberg reveals his foray into Hollywood with Crowe, Tom Cruise, Oliver Stone, Cameron Diaz and others.
In the spring of 1993, Cameron Crowe wrote the most memorable line of Jerry Maguire -- one of the most memorable lines of any film in the recent past. We were in Palm Desert, California, for the annual meeting of NFL owners. A major topic that week was free agency. Owners had done everything in their power for decades to prevent this day from ever arriving, but now that it was finally here, they hoped to minimize its damage.
The first client of mine to take advantage, Tim McDonald, was also in town, still deciding between several different teams. Cameron, after observing Tim meet with general managers and coaches, went to his hotel room to interview him. CNN's Moneyline, hosted by Lou Dobbs, played on in the background.
Tim claims he said "show me the money" during the interview while Cameron says he came up with the phrase. Either way, the line was recited in the movie by Cuba Gooding Jr., whose portrayal of wide receiver Rod Tidwell earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. I'll never forget when Cuba came to one of our Super Bowl parties and shouted, "Show me the money. Show me the money."
Once filming got under way, with Tom Cruise playing Jerry, Cameron asked me to be on the set as much as I could, giving him what's known in the business as notes, essentially how scenes and dialogue should look and sound. If the characters, details, or dialogue don't appear real, the sports fan will think of the film as a spoof instead of a serious work of art. He also asked what I thought of Jerry O'Connell, who portrayed highly coveted quarterback prospect Frank Cushman, Jerry's No. 1 client -- his throwing, not acting, ability. I had spent enough years around quarterbacks to recognize proper mechanics. I proceeded to teach O’Connell how to throw a spiral.
As for the script itself, it couldn't have been more authentic. The scene where Bob Sugar, the sleazy agent portrayed by Jay Mohr, stole Jerry's players was eerily reminiscent of Mike Sullivan's coup attempt in 1985. The moment when Dorothy Boyd (Renée Zellweger, in her breakout role), Jerry’s new wife, complained after he had been on a long road trip it wasn’t the marriage she wanted also hit home. Lucy was not pleased.
"Did you have to tell him everything?" she asked me.
I told Cameron tons of stories, to be sure, but the movie was most definitely not my life story. As Cameron told me, "Jerry Maguire aspires to be Leigh Steinberg."
I kept one scene out, and I am forever grateful. I was set to play Jerry's brother, who, during the bachelor party early in the film, would have given a toast that was pretty damning. While I recited the line, I started to mumble. Cruise came over after Cameron yelled cut.
"You looked really uncomfortable with this,” Cruise said. “What can we do to make it easier for you?"
Cameron stopped by to chat, as well.
"When you see a movie and there's a villain, it is difficult not to assume the person is actually a villain, even though it's only make-believe," I told them. "I don’t want to be forever known on celluloid as the person who ruined Tom Cruise's bachelor party."
Neither Cameron nor Cruise attempted to change my mind. To this day, I may be the only actor who ever talked his way out of a scene with Tom Cruise. I would have played his brother in another scene but missed my opportunity because they shot it while I was on vacation in England with Lucy. The one appearance I did make was in a smaller role, introducing Jerry to Troy Aikman.
My acting career was just getting started.
"I'm going to put you in every movie I do," Cameron told me.
Released in December of 1996, Jerry Maguire was a hit with both the critics and the public. I could not go anywhere without hearing someone shout, "Show me the money." I attended the premieres -- on a dock in Manhattan and in Westwood -- and walked down the long red carpet while photographers shouted my name. For the first time, I knew how my grandfather must have felt attending the galas in Hollywood during the '40s and '50s.
The film collected five Oscar nominations: Best Picture, BestOriginal Screenplay, Actor in a Leading Role (Cruise), Actor in a Supporting Role (Gooding Jr.), and Film Editing (Joe Hutshing). The odds of winning for Best Picture weren't very good, but winning for Best Original Screenplay -- the other nominees were Fargo, Lone Star, Secrets & Lies, and Shine -- was a distinct possibility.
The big night at the Shrine Auditorium arrived on Monday, March 24.
Finally, midway through the ceremony, came the moment we had had been waiting for. “. . . And the winner for Best Original Screenplay ... Ethan Coen and Joel Coen for Fargo."
Cameron later said he would have thanked me in his acceptance speech. I had bought an ad in Variety, the daily Hollywood trade publication, wishing him good luck. I felt terrible for him. I wanted Cameron to win the Oscar he deserved.
Being involved with Jerry Maguire changed my life forever. I could not go on a plane without somebody, recognizing who I was, deciding to talk sports for the entire flight. I was asked to sign autographs on posters from the film, and lunch with me was auctioned off for $15,000. Crazy, I know. Most gratifying of all was landing roles as extras in the movie for friends, such as Warren, Troy, Drew, Tim, Ki-Jana, Christian Fauria, and Jim Irsay, and inviting general managers and owners to the premieres. Athletes can be as star-struck as anyone else.
Several years ago, Cameron spoke highly of me in a magazine article, saying I "helped enormously with access and the details with which we could fill in the character." That's my recollection exactly. I have fond feelings for Cameron and am very grateful for the time we spent together. He did a phenomenal job of showing the world I lived in and presenting a more balanced view of a sports agent.
Not long after the Oscars, I received a call from another prominent director, Oliver Stone. He, too, asked for help with a new project, and I was glad to provide it. Unlike Cameron, who requested cooperation from the NFL, Stone lived up to his reputation as a maverick and didn’t want to be constrained in any manner.
The movie was Any Given Sunday, and it featured a stellar cast: Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, James Woods, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, and Charlton Heston. The plot centered around the up-and-down fortunes of the Miami Sharks, coached by Pacino, who are fighting to qualify for the playoffs after their starting and backup quarter- backs go down with injuries.
I took Oliver to our charitable golf tournament, where he inter- acted with various players, including Troy. I spent a night with Pacino and shared my insights into what made a successful coach in the NFL. Coaches were psychiatrists, as well as strategists, I told him, aware of how each player needed to be motivated differently.
Pacino was a boxing fan who knew little about pro football, but he understood. Seeing him prepare for the speech he delivered in the locker room before the big game was most illuminating. While the other actors joked around with each other to pass the time, he was slumped against the wall. He seemed almost depressed. He wasn’t. He was in character. Five minutes later, he gave one of the most inspiring talks I ever heard, pointing out the parallels between life and football. Rockne could not have fired up his troops any better. That's why he's Al Pacino. For that same scene, I showed players how to pound each other’s shoulder pads.
With Cameron Diaz, who played the owner of the team she inherited from her father, I pointed out how she’d encounter sexism wherever she turned in the sport and how, rightly or wrongly, people would always compare her to him. She needed to be charm- ing and yet no pushover, a most delicate balancing act. She pulled it off.
Stone also enlisted my help to assess the throwing ability of a well-known rapper he was going to cast in the role of the third- string quarterback who saves the day.
"Can you take this film to your friends who are general managers and get some objective feedback?" he asked.
I didn't need any general managers to tell me the obvious. The rapper made Jerry O’Connell look like Steve Young.
"Oliver," I said, "I represent half the starting quarterbacks in the NFL and I've been doing this for twenty-five years. This guy throws like a girl."
Stone proceeded to find a couple of former NFL coaches to give the actor some tips on how to release the ball.
"Now what do you think?" he asked.
"He still throws like a girl," I said.
Ultimately, Stone went instead with Jamie Foxx, a relatively unknown comic in those days, and the movie was released in December 1999.
In the late ’90s, I also worked on Arli$$, the spoof HBO series that featured Robert Wuhl as a loose wheeler-dealer agent, the opposite of Jerry Maguire. As a consultant, I suggested a number of my nefarious fantasies for plotlines. In one, Arliss sleeps with his client's wife. In another, he represents the owners of both sides in a franchise relocation. I made sure my name was not on the credits -- I didn’t want to be seen as endorsing the character's behavior -- although I did make a cameo appearance in a scene shot at one of our Super Bowl parties.
On network television, I played myself in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210, in which the character portrayed by Tori Spelling asked me to persuade Steve Young to attend her boyfriend’s birthday party.
I played myself, as well, in First Monday, a TV show about the Supreme Court, sharing the stage with Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson in the episode entitled “Court Date.” I also appeared in two episodes of the NBC sitcom Sports Action Team, which spoofed an ESPN show.
I was a consultant on For Love of the Game, the baseball movie starring Kevin Costner. Kevin did all his own pitching, though when he didn’t show on opening night because of a dispute with the studio over the final cut, I filled in for him on the red carpet to do interviews.
-- Excerpted by permission from The Agent: My 40-Year Career Making Deals And Changing The Game by Leigh Steinberg With Michael Arkush. Copyright (c) 2014 by Leigh Steinberg. Published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.