Meet NFL agent Leigh Steinberg - the real-life 'Jerry Maguire'
"Help me help you."
By Cameron Hogwood
Last Updated: 20/04/20 11:59am
It's 1993 and American film writer and director Cameron Crowe watches on at the NFL Draft as the New England Patriots select Washington State quarterback Drew Bledsoe at No 1 overall.
Crowe's focus isn't on the future Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowler, but instead the agent tasked with representing him, Leigh Steinberg.
This was the latest field trip during an 18-month exposure to Steinberg's life as one of the most powerful figures in sport. Crowe shadowed and absorbed the job traits, methods and zest that would later help inspire the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire, starring Tom Cruise as a sports agent who decides to work solo after being fired by SMI management.
Almost 24 years on from the film's release and its famous catchphrases continue to stand the test of time, the most familiar being 'Show me the money!'.
Steinberg looks down the camera to give his own rendition of another - "Help me help you".
"Most of the lines came from Cameron Crowe's creative mind," Steinberg told Sky Sports' Richard Graves. "He followed me around for a year-and-a-half, he went everywhere I went.
"He went to the NFL Draft, he went to the pro scouting days, he went to a whole lot of places with me and I told him a whole lot of stories. What precisely came out of that is between Cameron and I."
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Steinberg's star-studded past clientele have accounted for an NFL-record eight No 1 overall picks throughout draft history, not to mention 62 first-round selections.
That tally is days away from rising to 64 at the 2020 NFL Draft, with Alabama duo Tua Tagovailoa and Jerry Jeudy set to be among the first names off the board.
While it's a resume he is proud of, Steinberg is more concerned with players landing in the right situation than as high as possible.
"What I really care about is that our players, especially a quarterback, go to a team with a great ownership group, a great front office and a great coach," he said.
"Because what's important is that that player has the organisation and tools around him to be productive so it's less important to me that a player goes a couple of picks higher in the draft than if he goes to the right location, as Mahomes did with Kansas City."
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As depicted in the film, an element of chaos is ubiquitous when it comes to draft night, Laremy Tunsil serving as a modern reminder. Deemed a potential No 1 pick in 2016, the offensive tackle slipped to the Miami Dolphins at No 13 after a video of him appearing to inhale a substance through a gas mask emerged 10 minutes before the draft.
Linebacker Myles Jack was projected as an early first-round pick at the same draft before falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars in round two amid fears over his recovery from a knee injury.
Part of Steinberg's job is to ensure his client Tagovailoa, a likely top 10 pick, doesn't endure a similar slide. Though the quarterback's sparkling game tape speaks for itself, the inability for NFL teams to conduct physicals amid travel restrictions means there is still a hint of uncertainty over his health following hip surgery.
"You have to monitor what's going on, especially this year because the teams will be separated," added Steinberg.
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"For example, you could get the case of a plummeting draft pick which we saw all the way back to Dan Marino where the player doesn't get picked where everyone expects him to and then teams think there must be something wrong, they don't know and then plummet, plummet, plummet.
"So you have to stay active to make sure that nothing is happening, there are no rumours, there are no misperceptions that occur.
"You better get on the phone and damage control quickly."
The build-up to the draft can be a test of the best poker faces, but when it comes to draft week itself there is an onus on agents and officials to operate with the honesty capable of maintaining an annual synergy.
"There's a generalised amnesty on truth-telling in the week or so before the draft," explained Steinberg.
"If you had a general manager go leave this earth and go up to heaven and St. Peter says 'what's your most egregious sin?' and the GM answers 'you know, I misled everybody right before the draft and I concealed our true intentions because I didn't want other teams to know', St. Peter would say 'come right in!'.
"Teams tend to be honest with me and with us, they don't have to say anything but if they're telling us what their intention is and it doesn't turn out to be true, then there you are the next year dealing with the same people and it erodes trusts so we tend to get really good information."
This year will be Steinberg's 46th draft, and the excitement isn't close to wearing off just yet.
After all, he has good reason to feel positive after seeing another of his clients, Patrick Mahomes, just win the Super Bowl.
"I think the draft day and draft night is the most exciting night of the year," he said. "Draft time is not real time, every second seems like an hour, every minute seems like a day and as a player's waiting, it's like water torture - drip, drip, drip.
"It is every hope and dream that started when someone first played football, a family is around a player and now it comes to fruition and there's an ecstatic burst of joy. I'm not nervous, I'm excited.
"It's still a thrill and exciting, watching regeneration and a whole new generation start their dream."
Having overseen a multitude of success stories in his career, Steinberg has paid special recognition to five standout names boasting a collective haul of Super Bowl rings, Hall of Fame inductions and regular Pro Bowl appearances.
"Troy Aikman certainly made an impact, won three Super Bowls," he said. "Warren Moon never got drafted but played 23 years and was a magnificent role model, Steve Young finally got the monkey of Joe Montana off his back.
"Bruce Smith was the most terrifying defensive lineman I ever saw. They used to run a highlight clip of him and the good news is that he kept sacking a lot of players, the bad news was that he was sacking my clients who were quarterbacks.
"Derrick Thomas, there was a game in which he had seven sacks against David Kreig and the Seattle Seahawks."
All shared something in common in regards to a desire to give something back - a quality that has become integral to Steinberg.
"What really impressed me about all of them was that they followed our policy of being a role model and retracing their roots to the high school/collegiate and professional levels to set up scholarship funds and charitable foundations and make a real impact in the world," he said.
"I think they (his clients) need to understand that they've got a unique ability to trigger imitative behaviour, especially in young people and together we can make a difference in the world."
Watch all three days of the 2020 NFL Draft unfold on Sky Sports, April 23-25 - starting with build-up to day one at 6pm on Thursday, April 23 with the first picks expected to be made at 1am. Follow us @SkySportsNFL and at www.skysports.com/NFL