“You had me at hello!” The movie ‘Jerry Maguire’ turned 20 this year and has brought us some of the most iconic lines in movie history.
“Show me the money!”
Sports agent Leigh Steinberg was the inspiration for the movie and the Jerry Maguire character and I had the chance, in 2014, to interview Leigh about his book The Agent: My 40-Year Career Making Deals and Changing the Game. We talked about his career and the movie. Here is some of that interview in honor of the movie’s anniversary.
Is it true that the first time you saw a baseball game you were with your grandfather and with the legendary actor George Burns?
My grandfather ran Hillcrest Country Club, which was the stopping point for many of the movie stars in the 40s and 50s. Each week he would sit at the comedians’ table and play gin rummy with Groucho Marx and George Burns and Jack Benny and George Jessel and Danny Kaye. So, I’d sit on his lap and the very first game I went to in baseball, it was George Burns with my grandfather.
Tell me about the conversation when Cameron Crowe comes to you and says, “We need your advice. We want you to help us out with a little movie project?”
I had seen a film that Cameron had gone underground for which was “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” which I thought was very droll. He asked if he could follow me for a film he wanted to do centered on a sports agent. So, off we went and everywhere I went for the next couple of years, he went. It was the 1993 NFL Draft where I had Drew Bledsoe as the first pick and up to a press conference with Bill Parcells in Boston and came to a number of games with me. He went to the League meetings out in Palm Desert. Went to pro-scouting day at USC. Came to Super Bowl parties. Sat in my office. And I told him stories. Lots and lots of stories.
He went and wrote a script and then my first job was to vet the script to make sure the willing suspension of disbelief that keeps you engrossed in a film wasn’t violated. Then I actually was assigned to work with Cuba Gooding Jr. and I took him down to the Super Bowl in Phoenix and made him pretend that he was a wide receiver all week to put him in role. I had to show Jerry O’Connell in that film how to throw a football and how to throw a spiral because he was an actor who had gone to NYU and they didn’t have football there.
It was sort of an engrossing experience and I agreed with Cameron that we wouldn’t talk about what he specifically shared. It’s not my biography. It’s certainly heavily based on stories I’ve told him and when my then wife saw the premiere she said, “Did you have to tell them everything?”
Did you ever think that “Show me the money” would be like the biggest phrase that ever came out?
There are about five lines from that movie, “You had me at hello”, “Help me help you” that have carried on in the culture. That film is on television somewhere all the time.
We were out at the spring, at the League meetings for football and I was walking a strong safety named Tim McDonald around to visit certain teams. Cameron watched the process, went upstairs in the hotel, and Moneyline with Lou Dobbs was on in the background. Cameron said to Tim, “What is it you’re looking for in this experience? What are you trying to achieve?” And Tim looked up at the screen and he said, “I’m looking for a team that will show me some winning. I’m looking for a team that will show love. I’m looking for a team to show me economic security.” And then Cameron went and wrote the line “Show me the money”.
And the rest is history, obviously. You were almost headed for a career in journalism and then the whole, “will you represent me” with Bartkowski happened. Imagine if your life had taken you into just being a journalist.
Or the Alameda County D.A. I thank Steve Bartkowski every night for saving me from a life of corporate litigation.
So, I’m living in a dorm and going to law school at UC Berkeley in the ’70s and one of the students is Steve Bartkowski. I graduate from law school. He’s not become the very first pick in the first round of the NFL Draft and he asks me to represent him. So, there I am brimming with legal experience, never having practiced law before, and I have the first pick in the first round of the Draft, there’s a World Football League competing, and we get the largest rookie contract in the history of football, which eclipses OJ Simpson and Joe Namath who had been the previous standard bearers, and off we head to Atlanta.
We get there and it’s the night before the signing and there are klieg lights flashing in the sky, a huge crowd is pressed up against the police line and the first thing we hear is, “We interrupt the Johnny Carson show to bring you a special news bulletin. Steve Bartkowski and Leigh Steinberg have just arrived at the Atlanta airport. We switch you live.” Wow. I looked at him like Dorothy probably looked at ToTo when the got to Munchkinland and said, “I know we’re not in California anymore.”
That’s when I saw the tremendous idol worship and veneration athletes were held in and I thought, well, if I want to make a difference with this practice, we should send them back to the high school community to set up a scholarship fund or some form of Boys and Girls Club, but to root them back into that. Then at the collegiate level, a number of the players have repaid their scholarships. Troy Aikman at UCLA or Eric Karros or Edgerrin James at the University of Miami or Kerry Collins at Penn State.
Then at the pro-level I challenge each of the athletes to put together a foundation that would tackle some root problem and put the leading business figures, political figures, community leaders onto a board to help them execute the program. So, Warrick Dunn, the former Tampa and Atlanta running back, just moved the 134th single mother into the first home that she and her family ever owned by making the down payment and having the home outfitted. So, athletes can make a real difference.
If you haven’t seen Jerry Maguire yet, go watch it.
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